• IGP claims arrest of 35-year-old suspect with ‘links to Indian intelligence’
• Network behind attempt to foment conflict in Jaranwala dismantled

LAHORE: Punjab police on Monday linked the alleged blasphemy cases in Jaranwala and Sargodha to an enemy country’s spy agency, claiming that they had successfully eliminated the network behind the nefarious designs, which were aimed at stoking a clash between the Muslim and Christian communities in the province.

In a press conference on Monday, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Dr Usman Anwar said anti-state elements used locals in Jaranwala and Sargodha to “commit blasphemous acts” in a bid to spark riots.

He claimed that a conspiracy was hatched to divert attention from the ill-treatment of Christians in India.

Although he did not name any particular foreign intelligence agency during the presser, the IGP repeatedly alluded to the treatment of minorities in India, claiming that this intervention was a ploy to divert attention from what was happening in Manipur.

Dr Anwar had begun the press conference by presenting a copy of a news item concerning the mistreatment of Christian women in the Manipur area of India.

During the presser, he also shared another news item about a resolution passed by the European Union against injustices and violent incidents targeting Muslims and other minorities in India.

“In our investigations, it has been established that a spy agency of an enemy country was involved in this hateful crime,” Dr Anwar said, adding that police have reported this serious matter to the country’s premier intelligence agency.

According to media reports, at least three separate cases of alleged blasphemy surfaced in Sargodha in less than a month, with at least two Christian men being accused of committing blasphemy in the month of July.

Similarly, the Jaranwala incident, he said, had brought shame to the country when hundreds of local residents attacked and burnt several churches, besides damaging the houses of Christian residents of the area.

When contacted, Dr Anwar later confirmed to Dawn that police had a 35-year-old suspect in custody, who would travel abroad frequently to allegedly get secret assignments related to fomenting unrest between various communities.

He said police recovered smartphones and obtained call records that linked the suspect to Indian intelligence. On the pointation of the suspect, police had also raided several shops, some of which were used to publish the material used for levelling blasphemy allegations.

During the presser, Dr Anwar said that an alleged incident of blasphemy had earlier occurred in a village in Sargodha, causing unrest and anguish among the Muslim community.

Regarding the Jaranwala incident, he mentioned that out of a total 600 suspects booked by the police for arson attacks on churches and residences of Christians, 300 had been interrogated by the police.

Of these 300, the police identified 180 suspects through geo-fencing, photographic and video evidence, as well as WhatsApp messages, and arrested them in the wake of the FIR lodged against them for damaging the places of worship and homes of Christians, he said.

The Punjab police chief added that police teams were taking extreme precautions in arresting the actual culprits responsible for the attacks in Jaranwala incidents.

Regarding those who committed the alleged act of blasphemy, he said the police had arrested two prime suspects who were directly involved, along with a suspect who had written blasphemous content, besides one whose house was used in the planning of the heinous crime.

In response to a question, he said that investigations into cases lodged over both, Jaranwala and Sargodha incidents, were nearing completion and Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) were exploring all possible options to ensure the culprits are brought before a court of law.

The IGP’s assessment see­med to be at odds with a report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), which had recently sent a fact-finding mission to the area.

In its report, the HRCP found complicity of some local religious leaders in the attacks on churches and houses in Jaranwala.

Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2023

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