Govt to ‘Restore’ Churches, Christians’ Homes Ransacked During Violence Against Christians in Pakistan: Punjab CM

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LAHORE — Punjab caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi on Thursday vowed to restore within three to four days all the churches and Christians’ homes that were ransacked and torched during the Jaranwala violence a day earlier.

On Wednesday, a violent mob of hundreds had ransacked and torched five churches while also attacking the residences of members of the Christian community.

A Christian cemetery and the office of the local assistant commissioner were also vandalised. The incident had led the Punjab government to call in Rangers while 3,000 police personnel from various police units, including the Elite Force, had been deployed as well, reports Dawn.

As per police and local sources, the violence erupted after some locals alleged that several desecrated pages of the Holy Quran had been found near a house at Cinema Chowk in Jaranwala, where two Christian brothers resided.

In light of the situation, the district administration has imposed Section 144 for seven days, prohibiting all kinds of assembly, except for events organised by the government.

Meanwhile, the Punjab government ordered the formation of a high-level inquiry committee to investigate the incident, in line with directives issued by Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq.

Separately, in a statement issued late on Wednesday night, Punjab police said it had made over 100 arrests while the Jaranwala police booked over 600 people in two terror cases.

Addressing a meeting today, which was attended by religious leaders of the Christian community, Naqvi condemned yesterday’s violence and asserted that such incidents were anti-Islam and against the teachings of the Holy Prophet.

He claimed the mob-led attack was a “planned conspiracy” to “light a fire in the country and sabotage its peace”.

“For the future, we should sit with our minorities and chalk out a plan to prevent such incidents,” he stressed, urging religious leaders to spread the message of the Holy Quran among the people.

Talking about damages to churches and Christians’ homes, Naqvi promised that the Punjab government would restore all the buildings to their original state within the next three to four days.

“Whatever damages took place, as a government, Muslims and humans, we will restore them.”

The caretaker CM added that all Pakistanis were one and promised to prevent any such “conspiracy” in the future. “There is no space for this in our country.”

The FIRs

Both first information reports (FIRs), copies of which are available with Dawn.com, were filed by a sub-inspector of the Jaranwala City police station and state the time of reporting as 10am on Wednesday (August 16).

One of the criminal complaints states that a mob of 500-600, led by a group of people, “attacked the Christian community, ransacked people’s homes after entering them and torched Christians’ homes and the church building”.

It identified eight people as leading the mob, one of whom is affiliated with the Jamaat Ahl-e-Sunnat and another with the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP).

The FIR invoked sections 7-1(d), 7-1(g), 7-1(h) and 7-1(i) — all pertaining to “punishment for acts of terrorism” — of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.

It also invoked sections 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups, etc), 186, (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 324 (attempted murder), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc) and 452 (house-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

The invoked sections also include 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the PPC.

The FIR further invokes sections 5 (inspections) and 6 (punishment) of the Punjab Sound Systems (Regulation) Act 2015 — the latter imposing punishment on those who violate sections pertaining to “regulation of sound system” and “prohibition of on the use of sound system”.

According to the FIR, at around 9:20am, a man used the loudspeakers of Mehtab Mosque — located near the Cinema Chowk — to urge people to “gather and protest” against alleged desecration of the Holy Quran.

It stated that the mob gathered outside Mehtab Mosque “armed with batons, road carts, petrol bottles and started chanting slogans”. It added that the people named above incited the mob, who was urged to stop, but it “resisted the police party” and entered the Christian community’s homes and ransacked them.

The FIR goes on to state that the mob “threw out people’s belongings from their homes and started setting them on fire”. The suspects also “entered a Catholic church, destroyed the things there, and damaged and torched its building”, it added.

The complaint further stated that subsequently, a police contingent arrived there from Faisalabad headquarters and launched tear gas, “forcing the crowd to disperse”.

Naming another 29 suspects, the FIR said they were “brought under control” after tear gas was used.

It also stated that Rurala Road Station House Officer Ghulam Rasool and Constable Mohammad Waqas were injured “as a result of the suspects’ fatal attack”. They were taken to a nearby hospital immediately for medical aid, the FIR added.

The second FIR was registered under Sections 324 (attempted murder), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 452 (trespassing with an intent to hurt), 436 (mischief by fire or an explosive substance with the intent to destroy a house), 427 (causing damage), 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class), 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 153-A (promoting enmity), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object) of the PPC.

Sections of the Punjab Sound Systems Regulation Act, 2015 and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act were also invoked in the FIR.

The cop said that he and other officials were at Fawara Chowk at 9:30am when they heard an announcement over the loudspeaker of a mosque regarding an incident of blasphemy and inciting the people to violence. He said that soon the message spread and citizens started gathering in small groups throughout the city. The official said that in anticipation of a law and order situation, he called for backup.

During this time, between 500-600 people — armed with sticks, canes and rods — gathered in front of the mosque and started shouting slogans. He said that the mob was incited to attack the homes and churches of the Christian community. The official said that the police party tried to stop the mob but they resisted and started forcefully entering homes of the Christian community and setting churches ablaze.

He said that during this time, backup arrived and used tear gas to disperse the violent mob while 29 of them were taken into custody — of which 12 have been named in the FIR.

Separately, the Faisalabad deputy commissioner issued an order — dated yesterday — declaring a “local holiday” in the Jaranwala tehsil today (Thursday) due to the “law and order exigency” in the area.

“All government department[s] and private institutions will remain closed,” the order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, added.

How the violence unfolded

Rumours of the alleged blasphemous act had spread like wildfire across Jaranwala on Wednesday after those who had levelled the allegations appro­ached different mosques, from where announcements were made to incite people to show their “reaction” to the incident.

As per local sources, the situation became more volatile when members of the TLP entered the fray, making public announcements from mosques and other places, riling up people to reach the site of the alleged incident. Soon, a mob gathered outside the house of the two men — who had evacuated by then — and set it on fire, sparking a spate of violent incidents.

Following this incident, people started gathering in Jaranwala town, turning into an enraged mob that allegedly attacked two churches — one Catholic and the other belonging to the Salvation Army.

The mob also attacked and burnt a number of Christian homes in two nearby localities, near Chak 127-GB on the main City Road and near Chak 126-GB, Bridge Colony, along Shahrwana Canal — also known as Christian Colony.

Christian community leaders said the mob also torched three other churches and looted valuables from the houses that had been abandoned by their owners, fearing violence.

Jaranwala pastor Imran Bhatti said the mob ransacked and burnt a total of five churches in the area, including the United Presbyterian Church, Allied Foundation Church and Shehroonwala Church situated in Isa Nagri. He said the attackers didn’t even spare a local Christian graveyard, where graves were vandalised and a portion of its boundary wall demolished.

A mob also attacked and ransacked the office of Jaranwala Assistant Commissioner Shaukat Masih, who had already left when the mob arrived.

A group of protesters also blocked Faisalabad-Abdul Hakeem M-III motorway at the Jaranwala interchange for traffic.

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