The Supreme Court of Pakistan.—File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The Punjab government admitted in the Supreme Court on Wednesday that police had deliberately avoided engaging a charged and violent mob which torched the houses of Christians and desecrated their holy books at Joseph Colony in Lahore’s Badami Bagh on March 9.

“The mob was extremely charged with religious sentiments and had any Muslim died during the scuffle, it would have become a national crisis,” Additional Advocate General of Punjab Haneef Khatana said.

But the admission irked the three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, which had taken notice of the arson attack.

Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, a member of the bench, asked if the Punjab government and bureaucracy were suggesting that taking risk for the safety of minorities was not advisable as had been demonstrated in the 2009 Gojra riots in Faisalabad.

During the hearing on March 25, police had admitted in a report that policemen and their commanding officers had taken refuge in a nearby godown when the miscreants started pelting them with stones before setting ablaze the houses.

“It’s disturbing and upsetting,” Justice Saeed said, adding: “You cannot punish a community and desecrate its churches.”

Justice Gulzar Ahmed said police had vacated the locality only to encourage the mob to go on rampage. “It’s unfortunate. It seems that police are not fulfilling their duties, rather failing tremendously,” he regretted.

The chief justice observed that all were equal before the constitution and the law and that police were trained for controlling the mob. “If tomorrow a mob gathers outside the Supreme Court should we wait till it disperses and in the meanwhile shift the court at the judicial colony,” he said.

Newly appointed Inspector General of Punjab Aftab Sultan assured the court that he would try his best that no such incident occurred in future and said Capital City Police Officer Mohammad Amlesh was supervising a police inquiry.

He said police had arrested 50 culprits involved in the arson, adding that an SP, a DSP and two SHOs had been found responsible for the Joseph Colony episode. The SHOs have been removed whereas departmental inquiries initiated against the SP and the DSP.