Christians Seek Justice following Attacks in Jaranwala, Pakistan

Advocacy group files plea with Supreme Court.

Belongings of Christians burned in Muslim rioting in Jaranwala, Pakistan on Aug. 16, 2023. (Morning Star News)

Belongings of Christians burned in Muslim rioting in Jaranwala, Pakistan on Aug. 16, 2023. (Morning Star News)

LAHORE, Pakistan (Christian Daily InternationalMorning Star News) – Citing lax government response to Islamic extremist attacks on a Christian community last August, an advocacy group on Wednesday (Feb. 7) filed another plea for justice with the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Implementation of Minority Rights Forum (IMRF) Chairman Samuel Makson filed the application with a request for a hearing as early as possible on redress for the attack on Christians’ homes and shops on Aug. 16 in Jaranwala, Faisalabad District, Punjab Province.

Makson had filed a similar plea in the Supreme Court on Dec. 8, seeking an early hearing of the suo motu notice taken by the Supreme Court after Muslim mobs in Jaranwala ransacked and burned at least 20 church buildings and more than 100 homes of Christians over allegations of desecration of the Quran and blasphemous writings.

Makson’s latest petition states that soon after the incident, both the caretaker chief minister of Punjab and caretaker prime minister had separately visited Jaranwala and pledged compensation of 2 million rupees (USD7,145) to each victim family. The two officials also promised restoration of the damaged church buildings within three days, it added.

The latest petition notes that the government’s assessment of Christians’ losses was flawed, stating that 146 houses were damaged while the government report cited only 80 affected homes.

“Of these 80 households, the government has compensated 76 families, while the remaining four haven’t received the promised amount,” the petition states.

It adds that despite repeated efforts by Christian groups to rectify the assessment, officials remain indifferent.

“Another matter of grave concern was the abrupt halt of reconstruction activities at various churches, with a noticeable lack of responsiveness from the government authorities,” the petition states. “This cessation has left affected churches incomplete and vulnerable, demanding immediate attention and action.”

Makson’s petition also questions the bail granted to a most of the suspects.

“The arrest of 283 individuals in connection with the incident raises concerns about the investigative process, but shockingly about 223 accused have been granted bail, and 14 discharged, underscoring potential flaws in the police investigation and highlighting the urgency for a thorough review,” it states.

The petition points out that despite proper identification by Christian complainants, police failed to recover the items used for destruction of church buildings from the arrested suspects.

“Additionally, the existence of videos collected from different sources has not resulted in action against the perpetrators, further underscoring the need for a robust and just response,” it states.

The petition notes that 25 Christians filed 25 First Information Reports (FIRs) regarding theft of their belongings. The police’s lackluster response and absence of investigations or a Joint Investigation Team (JIT), however, have left victims in despair, it adds.

The application mentioned the Sept. 8 hearing of the case in which the Supreme Court planned to re-list the case after two weeks. Thus far, however, no date for hearing of the case has been set.

“Hence, keeping in view the agony of the affectees and the sensitivity of the matter, the present case needs to be fixed at an early date,” the petitioner stresses.

At the last hearing, the Supreme Court ordered the Advocate General Punjab to file a report about absence of a security plan, which the provincial government was to develop to ensure protection of the Christian community as well as safeguard churches and residences. The special plan had envisaged establishing a quick response unit to prevent any violent attack on the Christian community.

Little Hope for Justice

Most of the suspects in the Jaranwala attacks have been released on bail or discharged due to defective investigation by police, “unsubstantiated” naming of them by some Christian complainants and lax attitudes of senior Christian leaders, sources said.

Police harassment of complainants and witnesses, officers deliberately arresting innocent bystanders instead of known assailants, and Christian leaders’ failure to ensure proper investigation and legal cases were responsible for most suspects walking free on bail, according to Shakeel Bhatti, a former councillor in Jaranwala.

“The police deliberately picked up several people whose presence on the scene could not be corroborated with evidence,” he recently told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “We identified several suspects who were actively involved in the attacks, and there was video evidence against them too, but they haven’t been arrested yet despite repeated requests.”

Bhatti added that most suspects in five cases registered by the government had been granted bail due to ineffective police investigation. Those bails also benefitted the suspects in the 17 privately filed cases as the same Joint Investigative Teams probed all the FIRs, he added.

Though 600-800 unidentified suspects were implicated in 22 terrorism cases – five registered by the state and 17 by local Christians – church sources said only 283 suspects were arrested. The government registered five FIRs under sections against terrorism, blasphemy, attempted murder, arson, hate speech and others on the day of the attacks, while 17 Christians filed private FIRs on similar charges on Aug. 21.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.

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