Sargodha police rescue 2 Christian families from mob, arrest 15 men

Published May 25, 2024
Screenshot of a video posted on X by Jibran Nasir of the alleged incident.
Screenshot of a video posted on X by Jibran Nasir of the alleged incident.

Two Christian families were rescued from an enraged mob that attacked their homes in Sargodha’s Mujahid Colony on Saturday morning, police officials confirmed, adding that at least 15 men were arrested.

Sargodha District Police Officer (DPO) Asad Ejaz Malhi earlier told Dawn.com that the incident stemmed from alleged desecration, but emphasised that a large police contingent was deployed and no fatalities were reported.

“When police arrived, the mob had gathered outside the houses. Officers cordoned off the area and safely evacuated all residents,” Malhi said, adding that additional police units were stationed throughout the city to ensure the safety of the Christian community.

“The police peacefully dispersed the crowd,” he added.

Social media footage depicted a mob surrounding a bloodied man and others, including teenagers, wrecking furniture. Another video showed a large blaze outside a house. DPO Malhi claimed they were “fake videos”, insisting no one was injured.

“The police are maintaining law and order,” he said.

However, a relative of an injured person contradicted this, telling Dawn.com that his uncle was in critical condition at a hospital and the family was not being allowed to meet him.

A statement from Minority Rights March also said that videos of the incident showed a mob attack on a 70-year-old man “on the instigation of a local cleric” while the man’s home and factory were set ablaze.

“The videos of the attack clearly show officers of the Punjab police being present on the site as silent spectators which points towards their tacit approval and facilitation of the terrorists involved in the attack,” the statement said.

A statement from the Punjab police said Sargodha Regional Police Officer Shariq Kamal, DPO Malhi and other police officials responded promptly as soon as the incident was reported and reached the spot immediately, managing to save 10 lives and controlling the situation.

“There was no loss of life, more than 10 police officers and personnel were also injured due to stone pelting by the angry people. The Sargodha police risked their lives to rescue the families and pulled them out from the crowd. Thanks to the timely action of the police. Sargodha was spared a great tragedy,” the statement said, adding that the situation in the city was “completely peaceful and under control”.

It praised members of the district peace committee and the Christian community for playing an “effective role in restoring the atmosphere of understanding and peace”.

“More than 2,000 officers and men of Sargodha police are on security duty. No one will be allowed to misbehave. Citizens are requested to support the police to deal with miscreants,” the statement quoted DPO Malhi as saying.

Later, a police statement said Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Dr Usman Anwar also visited the crime scene where he was briefed about the situation, as well as the steps taken for the law and order situation.

He also met with the district peace committee and members of the Christian community and commended police officers for risking their lives to save citizens.

“Timely response and action by Sargodha Police prevented major losses. Proud of the courageous young officers of Sargodha police. Those involved in the tragic incident will be given the deserved punishment,” he was quoted as saying in the statement.

Separately, IGP Anwar told Dawn.com that 15 to 20 arrests were made from the spot, adding that further suspects would be detained after identifying them from videos and other sources.

In response to the incident, Punjab Home Affairs Secretary Noor-ul-Amin Mengal departed to inspect the site on the instructions of Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz, a press statement said.

Mengal will review the causes and the investigation of the incident, and has ordered all senior officers to investigate every aspect. He will assess the law and order situation as per the chief minister’s instructions, the statement added.

“Pakistan belongs to all of us; no injustice will be tolerated under the guise of religion. Action will be taken according to the law after a complete investigation,” Mengal was quoted as saying.

‘Peace committee’

Sargodha DPO Malhi also announced that a district peace committee, comprising district administration officials and religious scholars from both Muslim and minority communities, would evaluate the situation and issue a statement. The Christian community is also expected to release a statement.

Regarding the suspect, DPO Malhi said the individual was in custody, and further investigation was under way, although he could not confirm if the alleged desecration had occurred.

Mohsin Malhi, a Sargodha resident, told Dawn.com that two houses and a factory were set on fire.

The incident evoked memories of a similar attack in Jaranwala last August, where a mob rampaged through a predominantly Christian neighbourhood, torching dozens of houses and churches.

Condemnations

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed serious concern about the unfolding situation in Sargodha, particularly in Gillwala village, where the Christian community was reportedly at grave risk. “There are unconfirmed reports of a man being lynched,” HRCP stated on X.

The HRCP urged Punjab Police and district administration to “immediately restore calm and bring the perpetrators to justice while ensuring the Christian community’s safety”.

Minority Rights March said: “This attack once again points towards the sheer failure of the state and law enforcement agencies in curtailing growing extremism despite repeated directives from the Supreme Court as well.”

It said it condemned the “failure” of the Punjab government and police for “failing to learn from the Jaranwala attack last year and taking any concrete measures to curtail the growing radicalism.

“We condemn the state of facilitating once-banned outfits such as TLP (Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan), resulting in a Pakistan which is becoming unlivable for religious minorities with each passing day.”

The group demanded an “expeditious inquiry and action through a judicial commission and the one-man commission led by Dr Shoaib Suddle … not only against the mob involved in the attack but against the police officials and officers of the Punjab government who failed to take preemptive measures.”

It also demanded that any member of the Christian community falsely accused of blasphemy be provided protection and no false cases be lodged against them.

The group also demanded immediate action to control the law and order situation in Sargodha and for the police to ensure no vandalism or ransacking of residences belonging to the Christian community.

Human rights lawyer and politician Jibran Nasir saw the parallels in this latest incident to the one in Jaranwala, saying it was “another Jaranwala style attack on Christians in Sargodha with [a] mob attacking local community, burning and ransacking property”.

Taking to X, he denounced the “failure of the State to take any serious and sincere action against perpetrators of the Jaranwala incident” and how it “has only emboldened those who exploit religious sentiments for their criminal acts”.

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