The Supreme Court blasted the Lahore police on Wednesday for failing to protect the property and fundamental rights of the residents of Joseph colony.
These views were expressed during a hearing on the recent Badami Bagh violence, when a mob set over 150 homes belonging to Christians on fire after accusing one of the residents, Sawan Masih, of blasphemy.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and Justices Gulzar Ahmed and Sheikh Azmat Saeed were alarmed to learn about the way the case was handled. They expressed suspicion that the arson and evacuation may have been planned.
Police admitted that they, at first, were hesitant to register the FIR against Sawan, due to a lack of concrete evidence.
“The SHO of Badami Bagh was reluctant to register the FIR against Sawan Masih on the complaint of Imran Shahid, a barber, as the allegations were vague and there was no clear mention of what derogatory remarks were uttered by the accused,” Senior Superintendent of Police (Investigation) Babar Bakht Qureshi told the top court.
Ultimately, in a bid to pacify the violent crowd, the SHO registered the FIR. However, by then, the situation had escalated.
Consequently, the SHO was suspended for his failure to maintain law and order, along with the DSP. The superintendent of police was relegated to an officer on special duty, a demotion in many ways. But the chief justice expressed severe disappointment over this trend of penalizing subordinate officers while their superiors were spared. “What has the provincial government done about the inspector-general of the Punjab police and the CCPO [chief city police office] after they failed to protect the property of the Christians?” he asked.
The officials present, including acting IG Khan Baig, could not satisfy the judges on why nothing was done to protect the homes of Joseph Colony. They also had no evidence to prove that the evacuation of the colony had not been premeditated.
The judges were further distressed when the CCPO himself admitted that the system had indeed failed to keep houses from being torched.
SSP Qureshi revealed that Masih had been thoroughly questioned in custody. However, he was apparently inebriated during the questioning and could not recall what he had actually said.
The person who registered the FIR and two witnesses, all booked for arson, were on the run. SSP Qureshi assured the court that they would arrest them soon.
The bench asked the officials to provide concrete information during the next hearing on March 18. The judges specifically asked for details on the evacuation of inhabitants and what led to the arson.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2013.