LAHORE: An elderly Ahmadi woman and two of her granddaughters – one aged 7 years and the other 6 months – were killed when their house was set on fire by a mob in Gujranwala after a boy was accused of committing blasphemy. A pregnant woman also suffered a miscarriage during the attack and nine members of a family were injured in the blaze, as eight houses belonging to members of the community were set alight. Four shops were also burnt in the arson attack.
SP Civil Lines Zeeshan Siddiqi told The Express Tribune that announcements were made in local mosques against members of the Ahmadiyya community, whipping up a frenzy in the neighbourhood on Sunday.
The local head of the Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya, Dr Muhammad Akram, alleged that the mob looted houses before setting them on fire from 8pm till 12.30am Sunday night, even as the police were present at the scene. He added that the mob did not allow Rescue 1122 vehicles or firefighters near the houses. Once the mob dissipated, police officials recovered three bodies and nine injured individuals from the burnt houses, he said.
Dr Akram told The Express Tribune that the deceased include Bushra Bibi, 54, Hira, 7, and her six-month-old sister Kainat. Both girls are daughters of Muhammad Boota and Akram, said Boota’s sister Mubashra Bibi, who was seven months pregnant. When Boota’s brother Munir Ahmed tried to escape from the mob, he was chased and beaten. He was rescued by some passersby and is hospitalized now.
Eight others, including a four-year-old girl and three-year-old boy, have been taken from Gujranwala District Hospital to Tahir Heart Institute in Rabwah due to security concerns and so they can get better medical care, Akram said.
Akram said the houses were looted before the mob doused them with petrol and set them on fire. Eleven members of a family who had locked the door to their house on the second storey of a building in fear of the mob were suffocated before police managed to rescue them. A rickshaw, tractor-trolley and four electric generators were also damaged in the incident. The mob also looted a building materials business.
The neighbourhood is home to roughly 2,000 members of the Ahmadiyya community, who live in a total of 300 homes here. In 1974, seven members of the community were killed in one day by an angry mob in Gujranwala.
Akram said that no one took custody of the bodies in the burnt houses until the police assured them of security. The deceased have been shifted to Rabwah for autopsies.
SP Zeeshan Siddiqi told The Express Tribune that an FIR has been registered against 420 people at Peoples Colony under Sections 302, 436, 148 and 149 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Among the nominated accused are local cleric Hakim Ali, Khurram, Asif Bobby and Asif Butt. No arrests have been made so far.
Siddiqi said the mob accused an Ahmadi boy of posting ‘a blasphemous picture’ on Facebook.
Earlier on Sunday, a crowd of 150 people came to the police station to register a blasphemy case against the accused, a police officer told Reuters.
Sidiqqi said that as the police was negotiating with this crowd, another mob gathered outside the boy’s house, and one of the residents fired at the mob, thereby causing panic among those gathered, who then set fire to the houses.
Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya spokesperson Saleemuddin told The Express Tribune that he personally remained in touch with Minister for Commerce Khurram Dastagir, local police officials and IGP but no one listened to appeals for help. A majority of men from the community living in the neighbourhood have reportedly not returned to their homes for fears of reprisal attacks.
A member of the Ahmadiyya community and human rights activist Munawar Ali Shahid said similar attacks had taken place in Chak Sikander, Nankana Sahib, Ghando Sahi, Sialkot and Shamshabad Kasure but no arrests have been made in any of these cases.
An estimated 100 people have been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan this year. A month ago, an Ahmadi man accused of blasphemy was shot dead in prison in Sharaqpur.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2014.