LAHORE: The fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has found complicity of some local religious leaders in the attacks on churches and houses in Jaranwala.
According to the report of the HRCP mission, 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 attacks against the Christian community in Jaranwala on Aug 16, 2023.
Following rumours and allegations of blasphemy against a Christian man and subsequent calls for action from mosque loudspeakers, thousands of people gathered in the town and proceeded to attack churches and homes.
Comprising HRCP chairperson Hina Jilani, Centre for Social Justice executive director Peter Jacob, senior Women Action Forum (WAF) member Neelam Hussain, and historian and rights activist Dr Yaqoob Bangash, the mission report says it “cannot rule out the suspicion that this was not a spontaneous or random crowd [that led the attacks], but part of a larger campaign of hatred against the local Christians.’
It says that while it fully recognises the operational difficulties that the police may have confronted in a small town with meagre administrative and law enforcement resources to deal with a situation of widespread violence, there are concerns with respect to the timeliness of the response, as well as weaknesses in the strategy employed to restrain the crowd.
The mission recommends reviewing the blasphemy laws so that they are not misused against individuals or any religious minority. Additionally, policies and strategies to deal with organised extremist groups should be devised, especially with regard to enforcement of law and order, so that such groups are neither able nor allowed to undermine the writ of the state.
The mission urges the Punjab government to take measures to implement the recommendations of the judicial inquiry held into the communal riots in Gojra in 2009 so that there is no impunity for organised religious groups that openly declare their intentions of violent action against religious minorities. The government must also take stern action against any instances of hate speech against any community, it demands.
It says the government needs to take urgent measures to compensate the victim community and rebuild the neighbourhoods damaged in Jaranwala. The compensation money must be commensurate with the damage and disbursed swiftly.
The administration must publicly clarify that the transfer of the Jaranwala assistant commissioner, a Christian, was not ordered due to any fault on his part, but was done to protect the officer and his family.
The directive of the 2014 Supreme Court judgment calling for a separate police force to be created to protect religious minorities’ places of worship must be implemented urgently, and the financial and human resources needed to do this made available without any further delay, it seeks.
Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2023