Joseph Colony tragedy: Police failed to act on first signs of trouble

Published: March 13, 2013
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An angry demonstrator burns furniture during a protest in the Badami Bagh area of Lahore March 9, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

An angry demonstrator burns furniture during a protest in the Badami Bagh area of Lahore March 9, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

LAHORE: 

The Special Branch (SB) of the Punjab police failed to inform the provincial government of the incidents which led up to the riots in a Christian neighbourhood of Lahore on Saturday.

On March 9, the Daily Situation Report (DSR) – issued by the special branch every day to inform the police and authorities concerned about the happenings of the city – only mentioned that tension engulfed the city after news broke of a Christian man using derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet (pbuh).

Another DSR, which was circulated on March 10, stopped short of communicating the intensity of the situation and stated that, “Religious resentment prevails amongst Muslims against a Christian youth, Sawan Masih alias Bodi Masih, at Joseph Colony, Noor Road, Badami Bagh. Tension existed between Muslims and Christians in the area prior to the event.”

Masih was accused of committing blasphemy by a local barber, Shahid Imran, following which the police registered an FIR against the accused on March 8 after an angry mob burnt down over 150 houses in Joseph Colony.

Events that took place before riots

Speaking to The Express Tribune, Badami Bagh SHO Hafiz Abdul Majid said that the DSR had failed to cite major incidents prior to the main riots. He stated that the angry mob had hurled stones on Christian homes and had also attacked Pastor Akram Gill, who visited the area to negotiate with the local Muslims. The mob had also burnt Masih’s snooker table, his source of income.

He added that certain trader groups in the area were trying to exploit the situation. Following the incident, a heavy contingent of police had been deployed in the locality to prevent acts of violence.

Sources privy to the matter said that a fight broke out between Shahid Imran and Sawan Masih on March 5. It was the result of this quarrel, which led Imran to conspire against Masih.

Since both Masih and Imran were drunk during the fight, two other alleged eyewitnesses were brought into play. Shafiq, one of the major accomplices of Imran along with a local Sunni Tehreek activist registered an FIR as eyewitnesses. The cleric of the area’s mosque, Qari Saifullah, was informed of the alleged blasphemy.

Local residents, on condition of anonymity, claimed that soon after the news broke, the police intervened and took both Sawan and his father Chaman Masih into custody. The authorities had settled the situation when a trader group, by the name of Amman Group led by Bao Fayyaz, citing its own political interests started chanting slogans against the police.

Meanwhile, the Joint Interrogation Team in its conclusive report has established that both the accuser and the accused were drunk before the quarrel, which casts doubts over the truth of the allegations.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2013.

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