ASIA/PAKISTAN - Attack following blasphemy allegations: Police arrest 44 people in connection with mass violence

Monday, 27 May 2024 human rights   blasphemy   religious minorities  

Sargodha (Agenzia Fides) - Pakistani police have charged and arrested 44 people in connection with mass violence against a Christian. The Christian, who lived in Mujahid Colony in Sargodha, a city in Pakistan's Punjab province, was accused of desecrating the Koran. The incident took place last May 25 when some residents found burnt pages of the Koran near the houses of some Christian families. Following an unfounded accusation, a mob armed with sticks, stones and other weapons gathered outside the home of Nazir Masih, the Christian owner of a small shoe factory in the area, and accused him of "blasphemy" for allegedly burning the Koran while he was getting rid of the garbage.
Some citizens, Christians and Muslims, fearing an outbreak of mass violence, called in local police and representatives of the Sargodha "Peace Committee," made up of Christian and Muslim religious leaders, in an attempt to calm the angry crowd of about 300 people, which had become violent. Despite everything, the situation worsened: some men set the shoe factory on fire, others broke into the house of Nazir Masih from the adjacent roofs, who declared himself completely innocent. Only the quick and courageous intervention of police officers was able to save the man from the burning house, but Nazir was still injured as the crowd incited violence. Security forces then used tear gas to disperse the crowd and arrested dozens of people, and Pakistani police filed a case and complaint against a total of 44 identified men, accusing them of attempted murder, obstruction and assault public officials, terrorist acts and lynching (on the basis of the Anti-Terror Law). Nazir Masih, 70, is in a hospital in Sargodha and is in a critical but stable condition. According to his lawyers, it was some neighbors - with whom he had disputes in the past - who accused him and triggered the attack. "This is another case of abuse of the blasphemy law. Measures must be taken to prevent it from being exploited," said Catholic lawyer Khalil Tahir Sindhu, human rights minister in Punjab province, who went to the scene. The minister thanked the police for their quick intervention that prevented the lynching. The Christian community in the Mujahid Colony residential area, where several Christian families live and there is a church, is frightened. A delegation of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops of Pakistan led by Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi along with Minister Sandhu went to the scene and expressed solidarity with the Christians in Sargodha. Condemning the violence and recalling the riots in Jaranwala last year, the commission noted that "it is essential that every allegation of blasphemy is thoroughly investigated and that the accused person is given a fair chance to face justice in accordance with the law." "Under no circumstances should masses of people be free to take justice into their own hands." It also reaffirms the commitment to "promote dialogue to counter intolerance." Meanwhile, following the incident, Archbishop of Lahore Sebastian Shaw also reiterated the need for protection and security of all churches in Sargodha district in a meeting in Lahore. This appeal was also joined by Abdul Khair Azad, Imam of Lahore's main mosque, and several members of the civil authorities. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 27/5/2024)