Justice Qazi Faez Isa, senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court (SC), visited Faisalabad district’s Jaranwala tehsil on Saturday to inquire about the situation of the local Christian community after Wednesday’s riots over alleged blasphemy.
The Punjab police have arrested at least 145 alleged miscreants, including two prime suspects, out of the 1,470 who have been booked as well as registered five cases.
The vandalism and arson have sparked nationwide outrage, with various religious clerics strongly condemning the incident and urging “exemplary punishment” to be given to the perpetrators.
Today, Justice Isa along with his wife, paid a visit to the Christian-populated area of Jaranwala, where he met the affectees and assessed the conditions of the burnt buildings.
Speaking to the Christian victims, he said, “If anyone attacks churches, it is the responsibility of Muslims [to catch] the attackers.”
Stating that he “does not communicate with journalists” due to his profession, the judge informed one of the locals that he had written a message for them.
Justice Isa further told him that he had brought some “food packets” for them, which he acknowledged were akin to a “drop in the ocean”.
“We want others to do the same,” he added. “Who has the greatest responsibility? [It is] Muslims. They should help you,” the SC judge said.
“Why leave everything to the state?” he asked, noting the glacial pace of state machinery to “tenders, etc”, which would take time.
Justice Isa asked the Christian leader to see who needed aid the most according to their financial status and accordingly distribute the items.
He then communicated with the residents about which other areas needed help and asked that he be taken there.
Separately, in a statement issued after his visit to Jaranwala, Justice Isa quoted verses from the Holy Quran and said Muslims were told to fight against those who harmed churches.
He highlighted that faith in Prophet Isa was one of the principles of Islam and recalled events from history where Muslim religious leaders had shown respect to Christianity.
The SC justice further stated that under Articles 295 and 295-A of the Constitution, a person who “hurt the religious sentiments of anyone” was liable to be punished.
“Violating the Constitution is considered a grave crime … what happened in Jaranwala was a violation of Pakistan’s law and Constitution,” he asserted.
Noting that Islam was a religion that encouraged people to wish peace upon others when they meet each other, Justice Isa rued, “The few followers of this religion who call themselves Muslim violated the teachings of their religion and displayed barbarism and abuse to this extent.”
The puisne judge further demanded that the victims of the Jaranwala incident should be compensated in every way possible.
Punjab IGP visits Jaranwala
Punjab Inspector General of Police Dr Usman Anwar also visited the affected churches in Jaranwala with female assistant superintendents of police (ASP).
The Christian community was assured of full security and cooperation from the police.
“The meeting of ASPs from all provinces of Pakistan with the women of the Christian community is a sign of solidarity,” the Punjab police chief said.
He said the ASPs will perform duty in Jaranwala until the rehabilitation and construction of the affected houses were complete.
Protest in Karachi
A protest was held at Karachi’s Teen Talwar in the evening against the Jaranwala incident.
It was attended by activists, social workers and people from the Christian community. The protesters raised slogans against the Jaranwala attackers and held placards with inscriptions such as ‘stop misuse of blasphemy’.
The participants also carried Pakistan’s flag, copies of the Bible and the Christian cross.
The protest and vigil were organised by the Minority Rights March. Taking to social media platform X earlier, it said: “We demand justice for our people.
“Who will give us justice when the state is itself responsible for our suffering?”
Pastor Joshua Daniel said the Jaranwala incident was not the first time something like this had happened.
“It happens every three to four years. They attack us. We want to know what is the government doing. Was the government sleeping when churches were being attacked from 7am to 7pm?” he lamented and questioned how the desecration of the Bible could be tolerated.
“We are out of patience. The Christian community is on the roads because we want justice.”
“The cross is holy for us. It hurts to see that it is being pulled down, broken and burnt. The sign is being pulled out from the graveyards. We want justice for this,” Pastor Rafeal Bhatti told Dawn.com.
Activist Sheema Kirmani said what had happened in Jaranwala was “horrific”.
“It is the responsibility of the state to protect these people who lost homes, places of worship and are living under the open sky”.“
Pakistan Muslim Alliance Sindh president Amanat Tahir Khokar questioned why those who had burnt Bibles were not being charged under blasphemy laws.
‘Takes a lifetime to build a house’
Meanwhile, speaking at the National Press Club in Islamabad, Archbishop Joseph Arshad recalled the difficulties that the Christian families were facing due to the incident.
He said he met a woman who was collecting things for a dowry but they were looted that day. “Other people also narrate their painful stories that they spent their entire life building a small home,” Arshad added.
Stating that it “takes a lifetime to build a house”, the bishop lamented that thousands of Christians have been rendered homeless and were living in open fields. “Those who fled early found refuge in relatives’ houses.”
Arshad asked, “How will the houses be restored? How will the people be reassured that they can come back to their homes and live in Jaranwala again?”
Cleric probed over protest call
Meanwhile, a cleric is among a dozen people being investigated for using mosque loudspeakers to order protests against alleged blasphemy, which erupted into violence, AFP quoted Punjab Inspector General Usman Anwar as saying.
AFP further quoted one cleric telling his followers it was “better to die if you don’t care about Islam”.
“That cleric should have understood that when you gather people in such a charged environment … in a country in which people were already very sensitive about [blasphemy], it is like adding fuel to fire,” Anwar told AFP during an interview in Lahore on Friday.
“He’s not saying that go and burn their houses. But when the mob gathers, it’s really impossible to control that.”
He said the cleric was one of 12 people who were being investigated for using mosque loudspeakers, while more than 125 people have been arrested linked to the vandalism that followed, thanks to the use of facial recognition technology, mobile phone geo-fencing and data gathered from social media.
At its peak, more than 5,000 people had poured into the neighbourhood from other districts, with smaller mobs spreading to narrow alleys where they ransacked homes.
Christians who fled in their hundreds have criticised police for failing to protect their property, with some sheltered by their Muslim neighbours.
“If police had started baton charging, or attacking (the mob) or tear gassing that would have resulted in multiple injuries or deaths. And that is what we were avoiding at that time. That would have aggravated the situation that would have spread in all the country,” the IG said.
Negotiations with religious leaders led to calls for calm, he added.
Thousands of churches guarded
Separately, two Christian brothers have been arrested for alleged blasphemy, with IG Anwar stating he personally interrogated the pair to avoid the possibility of accusations of torture.
On Friday, 3,200 churches were guarded by police across Punjab to provide reassurance to the Christian community, Anwar said, adding that he would travel to Jaranwala on Sunday to show solidarity.
IG Anwar said that the violent reactions to the accusations were not justified, describing the scenes in Jaranwala as “tragic”. He said it was the role of clerics and the government to ensure that religion was not misused.
“The most important thing is that we, the Muslims, in this country, are going to become more tolerant. Once we are given the true message of Islam, that is the role of the government,” he said.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the number and size of the attacks “appear to have increased in recent years”.
Additional input from Haseeb Bhatti