‘Orchestrated Hate Campaign’: Pakistan’s Top Rights Body on Attack on Christians

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LAHORE — The recent mob attack on churches and Christian localities in Pakistan’s Punjab province was part of a larger hate campaign against the minority community, an independent human rights body has said, highlighting the involvement of radical Islamists and complicity of the police in the incident.

On August 16, an enraged mob attacked scores of churches and Christian localities over blasphemy allegations against a Christian man in Jaranwala town of Faisalabad district, 130 km from Punjab’s provincial capital Lahore.

They also attacked a Christian cemetery and vandalised the office of the local assistant commissioner.

Till now, police have arrested over 200 people including the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) activists in connection with the mob attack.

“The attack on the minority community cannot be entirely deemed as random or spontaneous, with a suspicion that it was orchestrated as part of a larger hate campaign against the local Christians while the role of police and its ability to effectively mitigate and control the situation is questionable,” the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) fact-finding mission said in the report released on Friday.

At least 24 churches and several dozen smaller chapels as well as scores of houses were torched and looted in a series of brutal mob-led attacks against the local Christian community, the report said.

According to Punjab police, 20 churches and 86 Christian houses were burnt down by the mob.

The findings by the non-profit organisation state that it was not a spontaneous or random Muslim crowd that attacked the churches and homes but they were part of a larger campaign of hatred against local Christians.

The mission found that of the 500 Christian families living in Jaranwala, most of them are from impoverished backgrounds and work either in municipal services in the local government structure or in private factories.

The HRCP said the incident that sparked the mobs and subsequent violence was an alleged blasphemous material plastered on the gas metre of two Christian brothers living in the locality which was found by a woman on the morning of August 16.

By 6:30 a.m. allegations of blasphemy against the two Christian brothers, one of whom was a local pastor, had spread throughout the locality, and leaders of a religious party accompanied by several people had approached the police to file a case.

The FIR was lodged against the two brothers by 7 am. As police were engaged in negotiating with the Muslim religious leaders including the TLP activists, reports started pouring in of growing tensions in different areas apart from Christian residents fleeing their homes fearing imminent violence.

The report said the attacks were not just limited to Jaranwala city but also engulfed nearby villages where a systematic attack was perpetrated on Christian places of worship and households of Christians.

“One person attested that a tractor trolley full of people, as well as several persons on motorbikes, had arrived from a village, transporting men who then burnt down a church and houses, thus giving more credibility to the notion that the attack was premeditated,” it said

The mission has also recommended a review of the country’s controversial blasphemy laws to prevent their misuse against individuals or any religious minority.

“There is a need to develop policies and strategies to deal with organised extremist groups (like TLP) so that no individual or group can undermine the writ of the state,” the report said.

The HRCP said the government should take measures to implement recommendations of the judicial inquiry that was held into the communal riots of Gojra, Punjab (attacks on Christians) in 2009 so that there is no impunity for organised Muslim religious groups that openly declare their intentions of violent action against religious minorities. — PTI

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