Rangers called after churches vandalised in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala over blasphemy allegations

Published August 16, 2023
View of a burnt church on the outskirts of Faisalabad on August 16 following an attack by a mob. — AFP
View of a burnt church on the outskirts of Faisalabad on August 16 following an attack by a mob. — AFP
This photo shows a church being vandalised in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala on Wednesday. — Photo via President Bishop of the Church of Pakistan Azad Marshall’s Twitter
This photo shows a church being vandalised in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala on Wednesday. — Photo via President Bishop of the Church of Pakistan Azad Marshall’s Twitter
Multiple churches in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala were vandalised on Wednesday. — Photo by author
Multiple churches in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala were vandalised on Wednesday. — Photo by author
Multiple churches in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala were vandalised on Wednesday. — Photo by author
Multiple churches in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala were vandalised on Wednesday. — Photo by author

An enraged mob vandalised multiple churches in the Jaranwala tehsil of Faisalabad on Wednesday over blasphemy allegations, following which the paramilitary Rangers were called to the area and Section 144 was imposed, according to officials.

A Christian leader, Akmal Bhatti, said the crowd had torched at least five churches and looted valuables from houses that had been abandoned by their owners after clerics made announcements in mosques inciting the mob.

Images on social media showed smoke rising from the church buildings and people setting fire to furniture that had been dragged from them. A Christian cemetery was also vandalised, as well as the local government office.

Dozens of people blocked a nearby highway as well.

Multiple churches in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala were vandalised on Wednesday. — Photo by author
Multiple churches in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala were vandalised on Wednesday. — Photo by author

Jaranwala pastor Imran Bhatti told Dawn.com that the ransacked churches included the Salvation Army Church, United Presbyterian Church, Allied Foundation Church and Shehroonwala Church situated in the Isa Nagri area.

He added that the mob also demolished the house of a Christian cleaner, accused of blasphemy.

Meanwhile, the police registered a first information report against the accused under sections 295B (defiling, etc., of the Holy Quran) and 295C (use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

At night, the Punjab government said in a press release that directives had been issued for a “high-level inquiry” on the incident and arrests.

The provincial government attributed the incident to a “planned conspiracy under which an attempt was made to destroy peace in Pakistan”. It said that the “Holy Quran was desecrated and the sentiments of Muslims were hurt”.

The press release further said announcements were made from mosques that action was being taken against the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran, but the situation had aggravated by then.

It added that due to timely action by the police and administration, announcements were made in mosques that the authorities were taking action, but tensions had already escalated due to the alleged desecration.

“Around five to six thousand people gathered in various areas of Jaranwala in different groups, attempting to attack minority settlements. The police foiled their attempts at several places and damage to several buildings was also prevented due to timely action,” the press release read. “But continued attempts to attack Christian settlements in different areas and police continued to safeguard these localities.”

It said a peace committee was immediately mobilised, and together with members from different political parties, condemned the incident. They also assured that no party was in favour of damaging any properties owned by any of the minority communities.

According to the press release, no loss of life was reported during the incident while police had made over 100 arrests so far. Moreover, it said, footage of the incidents was being analysed through scientific methods and the Rangers too had been called to the area.

“Large contingents of police remain deployed in several area and continue to perform their duties,” the press release said, adding that security had also been also provided “to all places of worship”.

It said the Faisalabad commissioner and other officials were present near the Jaranwala.

Section 144 was imposed in Faisalabad district for seven days due to the “prevailing overall security situation”, according to a notification from the deputy commissioner’s office.

The section of the Code of Criminal Procedure empowers the district administration to issue orders in the public interest that may place a ban on an activity for a specific period of time.

Earlier, spokesperson for the Punjab chief secretary Imtiazul Hassan also told Dawn.com at night that the Rangers have been called to the area.

He said the provincial chief secretary and Punjab police chief Usman Anwar were at the site, claiming that the “situation was under control”.

Earlier, Anwar said the police were “negotiating” with the protesters and the area had been cordoned off.

“There are narrow lanes [in the area] in which small two to three marla churches are located and there is one main church … they have vandalised portions of the churches,” he said while speaking to Dawn.com.

The official stated that efforts were under way to contain the situation by engaging with peace committees and police across the province had been activated. No arrests have been made so far.

“The assistant commissioner of the area, a member of the Christian community, has also been evacuated after people turned against him,” Anwar added.

On the other hand, Christian leaders alleged that the police remained silent spectators.

Later in the evening, newly appointed interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar said stern action would be taken against those who violate the law and target minorities.

“All law enforcement has been asked to apprehend culprits and bring them to justice,” he said on X (formerly Twitter), adding that the government stood with “our citizenry on equal basis”.

Taking to X (formerly Twitter) earlier, President Bishop of the Church of Pakistan Azad Marshall said that Bibles had been desecrated and Christians were tortured and harassed “having been falsely accused of violating the Holy Quran”.

“We cry out for justice and action from law enforcement and those who dispense justice and the safety of all citizens to intervene immediately and assure us that our lives are valuable in our own homeland that has just celebrated independence and freedom,” he demanded.

Bishop Marshall added that all priests, bishops and lay people were “deeply pained and distressed” at the incident.

Religious leaders visit Jaranwala: Ashrafi

Separately, Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) Chairman Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi said religious leaders visited Jaranwala today to address the situation.

In a joint statement issued by the PUC and International Interfaith Harmony Council (IIHC), he said religious leaders actively engaged with the community to stabilise the situation and foster an environment of understanding.

“The leadership of PUC and IIHC underscored the shared responsibility of safeguarding worship places and residences of all communities.

“They assured that the protection of the religious places was not only the duty of the Muslim populace but also a responsibility upheld by the state,” the statement added.

On the other hand, Karachi Additional Inspector General of Police Javed Alam Odho has directed authorities to remain on high alert in the city and increase intelligence outside temples, churches, mosques and all other worship places.

Nearly 100 killed over blasphemy allegations since 1947

Last week, a teacher affiliated with a language centre was shot dead by unknown armed men on an allegation of blasphemy in Turbat town of Kech district.

In a similar incident in February this year, a man was lynched over blasphemy allegations in Nankana Sahib after he was accused of “desecrating the Holy Quran”.

In January 2022, the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in a report stated that as many as 89 citizens were killed in 1,415 accusations and cases of blasphemy in the country since independence. The report said that from 1947 to 2021, 18 women and 71 men were extra-judicially killed over blasphemy accusations. The allegations were made against 107 women and 1,308 men.

Out of the total, 1,287 citizens were accused of committing blasphemy from 2011- 21. “The actual number is believed to be higher because not all blasphemy cases get reported in the press,” the report had said, adding more than 70 per cent of the accused were reported from Punjab.

The report had said misuse of blasphemy laws is often described by courts as an unlawful act. It had said the Islamabad High Court had previously suggested to the legislature to amend the existing laws to give equal punishment to those who level false blasphemy accusations.

The report had said the origin of the blasphemy laws dated back to the British era when these were promulgated in 1860.

Initially, four blasphemy laws — section 295, 296, 297 and 298 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) — were introduced and in 1927 section 295 was supplemented by 295-A after the case of Ilmuddin, a Muslim carpenter, who killed Mahashe Rajpal for publishing a blasphemous book.

Most recently, the Senate passed a bill to increase the punishment for using derogatory remarks against revered personalities — including the Holy Prophet’s (Peace Be Upon Him) family, wives and companions, and the four caliphs — from three years of imprisonment to at least 10 years in jail.

However, the law came under criticism from the PPP. The party’s human rights cell noted that blasphemy in any form of any religion could not be condoned and must be punished. It was also noted that the intentions behind the bill were questionable which, it feared, would only promote sectarianism and intolerance in the country.


Additional input by APP, AFP, Imtiaz Ali and Nadir Guramani

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