Youhanabad hopes for a trouble-free Easter

Church leaders promise to help in arresting those involved in riots if raids cease.

Rana Tanveer March 27, 2015
As many as 17 people arrested in raids throughout the week were released following the meeting late Thursday night. PHOTO: EXPRESS

LAHORE: Shopkeepers in Youhanabad markets are hopeful that a possible end to police raids following a meeting between the church leadership and the city police will help the neighborhood forget the events of the past two weeks and move on to the week leading to the Easter (next Sunday).

As many as 17 people arrested in raids throughout the week were released following the meeting late Thursday night. The police assured the church leaders that no new raids would be conducted and people arrested without proof of their involvement in the riots. However, the latter would now help the police track down those involved in the riot.

Several men who had earlier left the area out of fear of harassment and detention by the police have reportedly started returning to their homes ahead of the Palm Sunday (tomorrow) that marks the beginning of the week ahead of the Easter Sunday.

While most Muslim shopkeepers have re-opened their business, more than half of the shops in the neighbourhood are still closed. Only a fraction of the Christian-owned businesses have resumed work. Ashraf Masih Bort, who owns a photo studio in the main bazaar, said he had not returned to his studio until Wednesday fearing harassment by the police. He said some policemen were seen patrolling the streets in civilian clothes till Wednesday. “There were rumours that some Muslim shopkeepers were assisting the police in arresting people in the area,” he said. He said while he spent all day on Wednesday and Thursday at the studio, he kept the shutter down to avoid any inconvenience. On Friday, he opened the studio for the first time after the blasts. Bort hoped that more shopkeepers would return to the market after the church leaders’ assurance that there would be no more raids.

Suneel Javed, who runs a meat shop in front of Christ Church, said Thursday was his first day at the shop after the blast. “I had stayed away from the shop fearing harassment by the police,” he said. Javed had lost his brother-in-law Shehzad Bhatti and a nephew, Moosa Tanveer, in the blast at the Christ Church.

Younas Javed, a Muslim who runs a home appliances business in front of Christ Church, said he had returned to the shop four days ago. He said he is considering keeping the shop closed on Sundays in future. He recalled sitting in his shop with an employee, Nadeem Hussain, and a neighbor, Zahid Yousaf alias Goga, when the church was attacked. Hussain and Yousaf were both killed in the blasts. Javed suffered injuries in his right eye and left leg.

Haris Masih, 20, is amongst the 17 people released by the police following Thursday’s meeting. He said the police kept moving him and other men arrested from the neigbhourhood from one lock-up to another until they were released on Thursday night. He said the police had earlier offered to release him if he would identify at least four other men from the area.

Mother of Babar Aslam, 17, is still waiting for the release of her son. “He went missing four days ago. I had no idea about his whereabouts until Thursday night,” she said. She said she had learnt about her son’s arrest from those released on Thursday night.

Father Francis of the St Johns Cathedral was present at the Thursday’s meeting with Investigation SSP Rana Ayaz Saleem. He said the church leadership had assured the police of cooperation in their search against those involved in the riot. He said the police were warned that families would be left with no option but to take to the streets if the raids continued in future. He said the police had agreed to not raid the neighbourhood in future without taking the church leadership into confidence.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2015.


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