Almost seven years ago, a mob of people angry at alleged blasphemy by a Christian burnt down three churches, a convent, a missionary school, a girls’ hostel and a pastor’s house in Sangla Hill, a small town in Nankana Sahib district.
None of the perpetrators of the attacks has ever been punished, while a judicial inquiry into the incident remains either incomplete or unpublished. But three brothers who pushed for justice in the matter have been the subject of various legal and illegal actions apparently designed to push them out of the area.
“We have been implicated in false cases, threatened, been beaten and even kidnapped, but the police have never taken action on our complaints,” said Tanveer Salmoon.
Salmoon said that he had been assaulted once, while his brother Pervez had been kidnapped for a week. Meanwhile his other brother Tehseen Khan, a lawyer who filed petitions for action against the attackers, has been convicted and jailed in a fraud case, despite discrepancies in the investigation pointed out by the police themselves.
Some 500 Christian families living in Sangla Hill left the town the night before the attacks of November 12, 2005. They had noticed the increasing vitriol against Christians being spouted from mosque loudspeakers after a Christian man named Yousaf Masih was accused of burning copies of the Holy Quran, and had fled before the riots to save their lives.
The police quickly registered an FIR against 88 people under sections of the penal code for rioting, arson and defiling places of worship. But local Christians complained that the accused nominated in the FIR were not the actual culprits.
Salmoon filed an application with the police asking for the registration of an FIR against 75 accused, which included 11 policemen, 21 local clerics and two former nazims. The police refused to register an FIR, and Salmoon moved the plea in the courts.
He said though the court ordered the police to record his statement and investigate the matter, they did not do so.
Meanwhile, Salmoon said, the Christian families that had fled Sangla Hill had been unable to return because they feared they would be attacked and the police would not protect them. Some three months after the riots, he said, they reached an agreement with locals that they could return to their homes, in exchange for dropping the charges against the accused. The blasphemy case against Yousaf Masih was also dropped as part of the agreement.
Salmoon said the real trouble for his family was just beginning. He said that a group of armed men had assaulted and injured him, but the police refused to register an FIR on his complaint, despite the fact that he had a medico-legal report to substantiate it.
He said his brother Pervaiz Salmoon had been kidnapped for about a week in December 2010 and later returned. The police registered an FIR, but never arrested anyone.
In August 2009, his brother Advocate Tehsin Khan was arrested in a fraud case for allegedly ripping off a client. Salmoon said that shortly after, the police had trespassed on his brother’s property and beaten up his family including women and children.
An officer from the law department of the police, in a review of the investigation of the case, pointed out several discrepancies and recommended a reinvestigation. The DSP (legal) found that the SHO who had conducted the investigation had demonstrated bias and recommended that someone else conduct a new investigation.
Tehsin Khan was charged with offences under four sections of the penal code for breach of trust, forgery and fraud. Despite the DSP’s report, the court found him guilty on all four counts and sentenced him to 31 years in prison. Though none of the sections carry a maximum punishment of more than 10 years, the judge ruled that the sentences must be served one after the other rather than concurrently, which was unusual.
Salmoon said that the Lahore High Court, hearing an appeal, had later ordered that the sentences must run concurrently. Now they are appealing in the Supreme Court for outright acquittal in the case.
He said the police had tortured his brother in custody. An FIR was registered against several police officials for using violence to extract a confession under relevant sections of the penal code and the Police Order of 2002, but none of the accused policemen was ever arrested or challaned.
The latest form of victimisation of the family, Salmoon said, was a civil suit challenging their ownership of seven marlas in the town. He said that the church had given the land to his father, a pastor, for his years of service.
He said that some Christian families had left Sangla Hill after the riots and many were considering leaving now. He urged the chief justice of Pakistan to take notice of the events in the town and stop the victimisation of Christians.
City Sangla Hill Station House Officer Sikandar Ali said that the FIR registered against Tehsin Khan had nothing to with the Sangla Hill incident.
He said though the legal department of the police had pointed out some faults with the investigation, there had been enough evidence to convict Khan.
He said the police could not be accused of victimising the family as they had registered two FIRs on their complaints. He said that no one had been arrested for kidnapping Pervaiz Salmoon because the complainant had not identified an accused. “In such circumstances, the police can do nothing to identify an accused,” he said.
About the torture FIR against the policemen, he said the accused had been suspended from service after the case was registered. He said the Christian families in Sangla Hill were living in peace.
Human Liberation Commission chief Aslam Pervaiz Sahotra said the minorities in Pakistan were not safe and regularly suffered discrimination. He said the situation in Sangla Hill was tragic and the government should step in to protect the Christians living there.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2012.
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