Joseph Colony tragedy: Outcry against arson attacks

Published: March 11, 2013

Rallies staged in major towns and cities; in Lahore and Karachi protesters turn violent. PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI / LAHORE / ISLAMABAD / PESHAWAR / QUETTA: 

A day after arsonists rampaged through a Christian neighbourhood of Lahore, besieged members of the community staged protests and rallies alongside champions of civil and political rights in major towns and cities.

By and large, the protests were peaceful – but the marchers in some cities could not contain their anger, throwing stones at public and private properties, clashing with riot police and burning tryes on the roads.

More than 3,000 protesters burnt down 150-plus houses in Lahore’s Joseph Colony on Saturday after allegations that a Christian sanitary worker, Sawan Masih, had made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) three days earlier.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) organised a protest outside the Karachi press club (KPC). Apart from MQM activists, a large number of Christians turned up. The protest ended peacefully, but a group of young protesters – armed with sticks and stones – allegedly attacked the shops in Zainab Market.

The skirmishes continued for two hours before riot police drove into Fawara Chowk area to quell the rioting. The police baton-charged and tear gassed the protesters. They also fired gunshots into the air to drive away the protesters.

Earlier while addressing a demonstration outside the KPC, MQM’s Deputy Convener Dr Farooq Sattar said, “The Punjab government should quit immediately, as it has failed to protect the minorities.” “The Punjab government is supporting militants. It wants minorities to leave the province.”

He claimed it was the fourth attack on the Christian community during the tenure of the PML-N government in  Punjab, recalling earlier attacks in Khanewal, Multan and Gojra.

“The Punjab government should wake up and not test the patience of the Christian community,” he added.

Bishop Sadiq Daniel said that attacks like the one in Joseph Town were forcing the minorities to move abroad. “We don’t want to leave. But we are not safe here. We need protection.”

Lahore

The Christian community and civil society organisations organised several protests in different neighbourhoods of Lahore.

In Nishtar Colony, stone-throwing protesters damaged a terminal of the Metro Bus System and blocked the service for several hours. Angry protesters also burnt tryes on the main Ferozepur Road, suspending traffic for five hours.

Riot police did everything they could to disperse the protesters. They used batons, teargas shells and fired gunshots into the air to break up the protest. Police later raided houses in the nearby Christian neighbourhood of Yohanabad and detained several protesters.

Rawalpindi-Islamabad

Around 1,000 people staged a protest in the Faizabad area of Rawalpindi. Protesters demanded protection for the Christian community and called upon the government to amend the country’s blasphemy laws and prevent the misuse of these laws.

Political activists and representatives of local churches and civil society organisations demonstrated outside the National Press Club in Islamabad.

Organisers said that the culprits of Joseph Colony tragedy must be punished to discourage a repeat of such violence. “We feel every single person in that mob should be charged and given immediate punishments,” rights campaigner Farzana Bari said.

Peshawar

Protests were also organized in different cities of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

In Peshawar, dozens of protesters gathered to protest the Joseph Colony tragedy. They blocked Grand Trunk Road, Sher Shah Suri Road, Ring Road, Khyber Bazaar and all routes leading to the city centre. Protesters burnt tyres and chanted slogans against the Punjab government.

Quetta

Like rest of the country, the Christian League and Masih Ittehad organised protest rallies in Quetta. Participants marched on different roads and thoroughfares of the city before staging a sit-in outside the Quetta press club. Community leaders delivered angry speeches, criticising the Punjab government for its ‘failure’ to protect Joseph Colony residents.

Religious edict

Thirty scholars from the Sunni Ittehad Council decreed against burning down properties of the Christian community. Islam gives equal rights to religious minorities, and those who burnt down houses in Joseph Colony have committed sin, reads the fatwa (religious edict). “In the presence of the blasphemy laws, taking the law into one’s hands is un-Islamic.” The scholars apologized to the Christian community and called upon the government to punish the arsonists.

(Read: Mob madness)

Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2013.

Reader Comments (10)

  • MOA
    Mar 11, 2013 - 4:00AM

    How about repealing the blasphemy law ? There is no way PPP is coming back to power, atleast do one good thing for this country.

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  • WB
    Mar 11, 2013 - 4:07AM

    The mob was led by a PMLN MPA;

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  • m omar
    Mar 11, 2013 - 4:30AM

    It is time for Christians as well to seek asylum in Christian representative countries. All hope is lost in nuclear armed Pakistan.

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  • sHB
    Mar 11, 2013 - 5:08AM

    Political parties should open a fund where people can contribute to financially help these homeless people. This should be done in an organized way.Recommend

  • sHB
    Mar 11, 2013 - 5:11AM

    @WB:
    Produce the evidence. Any video picture? Then police must take action against that MPA..Recommend

  • Malik
    Mar 11, 2013 - 6:56AM

    There is generally anger and condemnation across the political divide for this attack on a poor Christian locality by everybody in Pakistan including the leading Muslim clergy and ulema, unlike the tacit support when similar attacks against minority Christians are carried out in India.

    Recommend

  • Sidrah
    Mar 11, 2013 - 8:34AM

    MQM might be bad but at least they sent one of their high office bearers Farooq Sattar to take part in protest against this act. All other parties don’t want to anger extremist elements and are quiet.

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  • Umer
    Mar 11, 2013 - 9:13AM

    @sHB:

    Produce the evidence. Any video picture? Then police must take action against that MPA..

    Its reported in Dawn. What is the surprise? Happened in Gojra too.

    No action will be taken as they are the government just like no action was taken in Gojra.

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  • gp65
    Mar 11, 2013 - 10:41AM

    @Malik: “There is generally anger and condemnation across the political divide for this attack on a poor Christian locality by everybody in Pakistan including the leading Muslim clergy and ulema, unlike the tacit support when similar attacks against minority Christians are carried out in India.”

    You are saying that minorities have better protection in Pakistan than in India. Keep your head in the sand. You can only solve problems after you acknowledge them.

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  • Sameer
    Mar 11, 2013 - 9:05PM

    James Rehmat, a Christian worker, openly accuses the PML-N government of actually patronising the mob. “Some top leaders of the N-League, including Malik Riaz (local MNA) led the procession. On Friday night, another local PML-N leader came and had banners put up against blasphemy,” he points upwards to freshly put up cloth banners saying ‘The penalty of blasphemy is only beheading’.
    “But we don’t see any politicians or other higher ups in this area after this incident although a whole day has passed by. How is it that all these incidents against us happened during the Shahbaz-Nawaz government?”
    This relays a reaction to the angry victims and they suddenly break out chanting slogans against the government, women beating their chests in anguish.
    Bishop Akram Gill, of the Emmanuel Church also stands and makes an official complaint against the Sharif-led Punjab government. “The Shantinagar and Gojra incidents too happened during the Sharifs’ rule. How is it that when they are not in power, we tend to live more peacefully? The time has come that Christians must ask themselves:
    Can we live in Pakistan any longer? We request the UNO to give us refuge because we cannot find any justice in this country.”
    Though Akram Gill thanks the police for controlling the situation, Sohail Johnson from the Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan has to stop himself from swearing at the police authorities. “They are lying!” he shouts. “They have done nothing to save us. They stood on one side while our Bible was burnt. Their excuse was there were too many terrorist outfits present and that the police was weak.”
    Meanwhile many are of the opinion that the whole scenario was a game plan by the nearby iron factory owners who they believe are patronised by a powerful ruling family member. The attackers, they say, were factory workers, and the agenda was to grab the land the Christians had their houses on. And when Saawan had already been arrested why was their need of violence?

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