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