Christians under siege: Mob rule in Lahore

Published: March 10, 2013
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A rioter sets a house on fire in Joseph Colony. PHOTO: ABID NAWAZ/EXPRESS.

A rioter sets a house on fire in Joseph Colony. PHOTO: ABID NAWAZ/EXPRESS.

An angry demonstrator shouts slogans while burning private property. PHOTO: AFP A rioter sets a house on fire in Joseph Colony. PHOTO: ABID NAWAZ/EXPRESS.
LAHORE: 

The destruction a Christian neighbourhood suffered on Saturday speaks volumes about growing religious intolerance in the country.

An over 3,000-strong mob set ablaze more than 150 houses of Christians in Lahore’s Joseph Colony over alleged blasphemous remarks against Prophet Muhammad  (pbuh) by Sawan Masih, a 28-year-old Christian sanitation worker, three days earlier.

Sawan was arrested on Friday when his Muslim friend, Shahid Imran, accused him [Sawan] of blasphemy, triggering an exodus of fearful Christians from the neighbourhood. The police also took Chaman Masih, father of the accused, and one of his brothers into custody.

“Only the person who committed blasphemy should be taught a lesson, while remaining families should not be harmed,” Imran, who lodged a case against Sawan, told The Express Tribune. Imran added that he could not be blamed for the destruction that followed his FIR.

The exact number of houses torched in Joseph Colony, located in Badami Bagh area, was not immediately known, but President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif have ordered an immediate inquiry into the arson attacks.

Ordering a judicial inquiry, Shahbaz Sharif said the arsonists would be tried in anti-terrorism courts for their ‘barbaric’ acts. He also announced that SSP Sohail Sukhera and SP Multan Khan have been immediately made OSDs, whereas the DSP and SHO of the area have been suspended.

“The barbarism demonstrated today has no justification,” said Shahbaz, while addressing an emergency press conference in Lahore. He also announced financial assistance worth Rs0.2 million for each affected family. President Zardari also called a report into the ‘unfortunate incident’. “The president said such acts of vandalism against minorities tarnish the image of the country,” presidential spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar said in a statement. Prime Minister Ashraf also ordered an “expeditious inquiry and measures to stop recurrence of such incidents in future”, his office said in a statement.

Free-for-all

Incensed protesters began to gather in the area Saturday morning and later set on fire houses and other items including furniture, crockery, auto rickshaws, bicycles and motorbikes belonging to Christians in the area. There was no loss of life reported during the rioting and arson attacks but 20 policemen sustained bruises during clashes, officials said.

Riaz Masih, whose house was also burnt down, told The Express Tribune that Christians were fleeing for their lives, adding that a majority of the protesters on Saturday were Pashtun labourers.  Television channels showed footage of violence from the scene as masked protesters damaged or burned down households, while police used batons in a failed attempt to disperse them. “Thick clouds of smoke engulfed the small houses, mostly consisting of one or two rooms, and many of them looked like charred shells,” said an eyewitness.

According to police, protesters burnt 25 houses but Dr Ahmad Raza, in-charge of local rescue operations, and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) put the number at more than 100.

“At least 160 houses, 18 shops and two small churches were burnt by protesters,” said Raza, who was busy in rescue operations in the area.

Expressing grief and anger at the attack, HRCP Chairwoman Zohra Yusuf put the number of houses burnt during the protest at over 100. She criticised the provincial government and said “it totally failed in providing protection to a minority community under siege”.

Shamaun Alfred Gill, a spokesman for the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, also condemned the incident and demanded the government provide security to the Christian community.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2013. 

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Mar 10, 2013 - 10:43AM

    As per report in Dawn The person who filed report, a barber, and the accused had drinks together had fight and to settle the score blasphemy was the charge. The police had advised the residents to leave their houses. What great job instead protecting police advises to leave their houses and run. Easy to loot and plunder this way. May be it is a great opportunity to capture the land and houses. Every one happy in The ISLAMIC REPUBLIC.

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  • Veekay
    Mar 10, 2013 - 10:50AM

    Nothing will happen, so start forgetting it, God has given free hand to these animals and He is watching , once He pulls you will see how they perish in ashes

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  • Mar 10, 2013 - 10:53AM

    The government should impose punitive taxes on all those areas and neighbourhoods and also cut water and electricity for the next six months.

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  • Hassan
    Mar 10, 2013 - 12:19PM

    And we call ourselves Muslims. Shame on people who go on a spree without any regard for poor and their belongings. Then we go around and claim the so called atrocities that Muslims around the world are subjugated to. After this, can we still claim that it is the “outside” forces causing violence in Pakistan.

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  • Abdulrauf akhtar
    Mar 10, 2013 - 2:18PM

    It has been done only to malign pakistan , there has been no tension between muslima and christian on pakistan .And now Pakistan is in the main stream media apreciate america india israel nexus !

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  • Eddie dex
    Mar 10, 2013 - 2:33PM

    Christians being attacked, Shias being murdered, no protection for citizens from government…this is exactly what a failed state looks like…sad but true..

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  • numbersnumbers
    Mar 10, 2013 - 2:45PM

    @Abdulrauf akhtar:
    Wow, more rantings about the ever convenient “foreign hand crap”!
    So you say that Muslim mobs burned out Christian neighborhoods “to malign Pakistan”!!!

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  • Hassan
    Mar 10, 2013 - 11:48PM

    @Farooq Abdullah: What makes you think that they are getting electricity and water in the first place?

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  • Nishant
    Mar 12, 2013 - 8:34PM

    I wonder do Pakistanis ever get so “organized” in “such large numbers” for anything constructive
    blast from past
    The Grand Mosque Seizure on 20 November 1979,
    Pakistanis attacked the American embassy and burned it, killing several diplomats..really … is that the best that they could muster. claiming that Islam is a religion of peace, the followers don’t know of any existence of peace.
    despite the fact that those who were arrested claimed to be the next Mahdi… Juhayman al-Otaybi…arab tribal prince.
    what sense did it make to burn the american embassy …?

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  • Abdulrauf akhtar
    Mar 13, 2013 - 1:20AM

    everybody here is twisting according to his own wishbut the facts will remain the same . Christian in pakistan never been treated as in india . Indians are all out their to defend them and malign pakistan , indians you need not to worry , we will help them to rehab .

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