LAHORE: Christians staged protest demonstrations and rallies in cities around the country, including Lahore and Karachi, on Sunday to condemn the mob that torched more than 175 Christian houses in Joseph Colony in the Badami Bagh area following allegations of blasphemy.
Skirmishes between police and Christian demonstrators in Nishtar Colony Lahore continued throughout the day on Sunday. The protesters gathered as flash mobs across the main Ferozpur Road and the side streets to show their anger against the incident.
They were asked to disperse peacefully by a heavy contingent of police in the morning, but they stayed put. The police then tried to push them to Yuhunabad, upon which they dispersed.
However, the abrupt appearance of protesters near the Metro Bus Station baffled the police. The bus service was suspended temporarily. They blocked the Ferozpur Road, burnt tyres and smashed windowpanes of the bus station. They raised slogans against the Lahore police and the culprits involved in the Badami Bagh incident. They pelted the police with stones. The police lobbed tear-gas shells and resorted to baton-charge to disperse the mob. Several policemen and protesters received injuries in the clashes. The police arrested at least 27 persons on the charges of creating law and order situation, damaging public and private property, blocking roads, and on other charges.
The Christians also staged a protest demonstration on Ghausul Azam Road, blocked traffic and chanted slogans against the police, Punjab government and the attackers. Another demonstration was staged in front of the Punjab Assembly. A heavy contingent of police were deployed at The Mall to meet any untoward incident. Yet another demonstration was held at Shimla Hill, where protesters carrying banners chanted slogans against the attackers.
The affectees of Joseph Colony vented their anger as Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif did not listen to their grievances during his short visit to the affected area. The protesters demanded the government register a case against those who had defiled Bibles.
The Christians also staged a protest demonstration in the Ghaziabad and Sanda areas and demanded immediate arrest of the accused.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry took notice of the Badami Bagh incident and fixed the matter for hearing today (Monday) during which Advocate General Punjab and IG Punjab will appear with comprehensive reports.
The notice was taken after media reports indicated that 178 houses of Christians were burnt after a case of alleged blasphemy.
According to a note written by the SC registrar, the attackers ransacked the houses before setting fire to them. The police initially tried to persuade them to clear the way for traffic, but the protesters turned violent and started hurling stones at them. Several policemen were injured in the heavy pelting of stones.
The police lobbed tear-gas shells and resorted to a baton-charge to disperse the mob. The protesters then retreated but only to regroup, targeting the houses of Christians. Some of the residents had already fled the area anticipating violence. The fire-fighters had to make hectic efforts for many hours to put out the fire. Many rescuers also received injuries while performing their duty.
The note further intimated that the incident is a serious threat to the life of people and indicates serious violations of fundamental rights, guaranteed under Article 9, 14, 23 and 24 of the Constitution.
Taking notice of the incident, the CJ directed to fix the matter for today as a constitution petition under Article 184(3) of the Constitution. He directed that notices be issued to the Advocate General and IG Punjab to appear and put up comprehensive reports on the matter.
Meanwhile, former SP City Multan Khan said the Badami Bagh incident would have been more devastating if the police had not helped the dwellers of Joseph Colony escape from the scene. He said the police arrested the blasphemy accused Sawan and registered a case against him when the matter was brought to his knowledge.
Police also made around 168 detentions regarding the attack on Joseph Colony, the DIG Operations said and added that the arrested persons had been kept in different lockups. He said the detainees would be produced before the Anti-Terrorism Court on Monday (today). He said at least 86 persons had been nominated in the FIR. He said the people involved in the incident were being identified through video footage.
Badami Bagh police registered a case (FIR No. 114/3013) against those involved in Joseph Colony mayhem under Sections 7ATA, 295/A, 427, 426, 397, 354, 186, 324, 148, 149 PPC.
Meanwhile, Pervaiz Rafique, a PPP MPA, elected on a seat reserved for minorities, resigned from the Punjab Assembly membership in protest against the attack on the homes and sacred places of Christians.
“Viewing the present situation which hurts Christian sentiments, I as a Christian member of the Punjab Assembly... resign from my seat against the Punjab government, which has totally failed to protect, and secure the lives, properties and churches of Christians and other minorities in Punjab,” said a statement issued by him.
Also, the National Council of Churches of Pakistan President Dr Azad Marshal has appealed to Christian community to demonstrate tolerance and remain peaceful over the tragic incident of Badami Bagh.
Our correspondents add: The Christians on Sunday staged a demonstration in Gujranwala against the Badami Bagh incident. They blocked traffic and burnt tyres at Aziz Crossing. The protesters demanded punishment for the attackers.
In Chakwal, Christians took out a rally against the burning of Christians’ homes in Badami Bagh.
The rally started from Christian Colony. It was led by Father Sylvester Joseph. The protesters were carrying banners and placards and shouting slogans against the Punjab government and police.
MNA Ayaz Amir expressed his solidarity with the Christians and also joined the rally. They marched on different roads and reached Chowk Bab-e-Chakwal. The protesters were demanding compensation for the victims.
The rally, after reaching Bhaun Chowk, was converted into a big public meeting and was addressed by Pir Abdul Shakoor, Father Suhail Mubarak, Madam Pervaiz, Salamat Gill, Youhana Arif, Irfan Gil, Asif Gill, Farukh, Mohsin Shah, Maulana Syed Ejaz Shah, journalist Khan Aqil and Ayaz Amir.
Agencies add: Muttahida Qaumi Movement on Sunday staged a protest in front of the Karachi Press Club to express solidarity with the Christian community and protest the burning of Christians’ homes in Lahore.
There were minor clashes between police and protesters in Karachi and further demonstrations in Islamabad, Multan and Quetta.
A group of 30 Ulema in Lahore issued a fatwa (religious ruling) on Sunday condemning the attack on the Christian community as criminal and un-Islamic, Fazal Karim, the chairman of the Sunni Ittehad Council said.
Protest demonstrations against the ransacking and burning of the Christian colony were also held in Sukkur, Mandi Bahauddin and other cities and towns in different parts of the country.
The Punjab government initially promised Rs200,000 compensation to each family affected by the violence, but Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif raised this to Rs500,000 after visiting the scene on Sunday.
Punjab government spokesman Pervaiz Rasheed promised the government would help the Christians rebuild their houses, but the Christians expressed dissatisfaction with the way the government was handling the incident.
“The chief minister declared that the repair work of all the houses would be completed in 72 hours,” a senior Punjab government official said.
Spokeswoman for Punjab police Nabila Ghazanfar said Sunday four senior officers had been removed from their posts for “negligence” and “failure to control” the mob.
Pakistan’s blasphemy legislation came under international scrutiny last year after 14-year-old Christian girl Rimsha Masih was held for three weeks in a high security prison for allegedly burning pages from the holy Quran. The case against her was eventually thrown out.
According to Human Rights Watch, there are at least 16 people on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy and another 20 are serving life sentences.
The Minister In Charge for National Harmony Dr Paul Bhatti called upon the Punjab Government to carry out a transparent investigation into the Badami Bagh incident for determining the facts.
Centre for Human Rights Education (CHRE) and Peace & Tolerance Alliance (PTA) held protest in front of Press Club, shouting slogans against the Punjab government and the police for their negligence. CHRE Director Samson Salamat demanded to stop the misuse of the blasphemy laws.