TOBA TEK SINGH: Some semblance of normalcy started to return to the blighted town of Jaranwala, whose streets are still littered with debris and ashes left behind by the mob violence perpetrated against Christian churches and homes earlier this week.

Meanwhile, two Christian brothers accused of desecrating the pages of the Holy Quran were remanded into police custody, even as Supreme Court judge Justice Qazi Faez Isa visited Jaranwala to express solidarity with the Christian community.

On Saturday, shops and markets reopened after three days, while contingents of police and Rangers personnel continued to patrol the area as Christians who had fled their homes on Wednesday started to return to pick up the pieces.

The district administration has also claimed that work to repair damaged churches and houses has been started by the buildings department.

Police get two-day physical remand of Christian brothers accused of blasphemy; Justice Isa visits blighted town, meets victims

The gas, power and water supply to the area has also been restored.

The provincial communication and works secretary, retired Lt Sohail Ashraf, said reconstruction and rehabilitation of homes and properties belonging to Christian families has started, while an assessment of the damaged residences and churches were also underway.

According to a damage assessment report submitted to the Punjab government by the Jaranwala tehsildar, 19 churches and 86 houses were vandalised and set on fire during the rampage.The two Christian brothers presented before the judicial magistrate were booked under sections 295C and 295B of the Pakistan Penal Code for allegedly committing blasphemy, after which a mob attacked Christian communities’ homes and churches.

The judicial magistrate also granted a two-day physical remand of Bashir Maseeh alias Bashira (produced along with the brothers), but officials did not share the charges against him with the media.

Justice Isa’s visit

Meanwhile, Justice Isa visited Jaranwala along with his wife Serena Esa to express solidarity with the Christian community whose homes and churches were burnt down on Aug 16.

“I am here as a citizen of Pakistan and it is everyone’s duty to help you,” he told victims who were visibly devastated and crying over the loss of their homes and belongings.

Speaking to the victims, the chief justice-designate said what happened in Jaranwala was “a blatant violation of law and Constitution”.

He told the Christian community that they had equal rights to practise their religion as everyone else.

“If anyone attacks churches, it is the responsibility of Muslims [to catch] the attackers,” he said, adding Christians have as much right to build churches as Muslims have to build mosques.

Justice Isa and his wife gave money to some victims and distributed food packages which he acknowledged were akin to a “drop in the ocean” compared to their losses.

“We want others to do the same,” he added. “Who has the greatest responsibility? [It is] Muslims’. They should help you.”

He also inspected the burnt houses and churches.

Talking to the Faisalabad deputy commissioner, Justice Isa regretted that three days have passed since the rampage but streets were still littered with debris and repair works on burnt households hadn’t started.

Separately, in a statement issued after his visit, the judge quoted verses from the Holy Quran and said Muslims were told to fight against those who harmed churches.

He highlighted that faith in the Prophet Isa (Jesus Christ) 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.

Multi-faith presser

Separately, Pakistan Ulema Council Chairman Hafiz Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi also visited the area and addressed a press conference with Bishop Azad Marshall, Archbishop Sebastian Francis, Bishop Leo Roderick and Reverend Immanuel.

Mr Ashrafi denounced the violence and said he had never seen such horror.

“Pakistan is not only for Muslims but also for minorities,” he said during the press conference at the assistant commissioner’s office.

The Punjab police have also posted under-training women ASPs in the relief camp set up for Christian families.

The female officers met with the victims and assured full security and cooperation.According to the Punjab police chief, two female ASPs will perform duty in Jaranwala until the rehabilitation and construction of the affected houses.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2023

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