Saturday June 15, 2024

19 churches, 87 homes damaged in Jaranwala riots

By Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry & Asim Hussain & Saadia Salahuddin
August 19, 2023

JARANWALA/ LAHORE: As the police produced 128 arrested accused in the court of additional sessions judge in Faisalabad and got their two-day physical remand to complete investigation, the Punjab government learnt rioters vandalised and burnt 19 churches and 86 houses in Jaranwala.

The accused are kept in different police stations of the district due to shortage of space in lockup of the city police station.

A report has been submitted to the Punjab government by the Jaranwala tehsildar regarding the damage caused to churches and houses during riots. The report said 19 churches and 86 houses were vandalised and set on fire in the violent protests.

Among them were included, two churches and 29 houses of Christian Colony, three churches and 40 houses of Isa Nagri, two churches and 12 houses of Chak 240-GB, two churches and five houses of Chak 238-GB, four churches of Chak 126-GB, two churches of Mohallah Farooq Park, two churches of Maharanwala, one church of Mohallah Camp and one church situated near the telephone exchange.

Meanwhile, a court of law approved seven-day physical remand of the two accused, arrested on blasphemy charges, in Jaranwala. Raja Aamir and Rocky Masih were produced in the local court through a video link.

Also, 17 more suspects, who set fire to churches and Christians’ homes were arrested, bringing the number of detained suspects to 145.

In this regard, four cases were registered in City Jaranwala Police Station and one in Lindianwala Police Station against 14,700 accused including 134 nominated accused.

Meanwhile, the Cinema Chowk area, the city main point for all types of protest demonstrations, was sealed completely by the police and the rangers and the antiriot police were deployed there to prevent any protest by people after the Juma (Friday) prayers. The law-enforcer kept patrolling the city roads all day.

Normality started returning to Jaranwala city, as shops and businesses in various areas were seen opening during the day. The Christian community, who had fled the area during rampage, started returning to their houses on Friday.

Sources said the police had arrested 150 accused in connection with attacks on churches and houses so far. Various parents alleged police were arresting innocent persons also, and they demanded the chief minister Punjab to provide protection to the innocent persons.

Also, a revenue department team, headed by tehsildar, has started assessing the losses, caused due to burning and damaging of churches and houses of the Christian community. In this regard, an eight-member committee has also been formed under the chairmanship of Additional Commissioner Revenue Abdullah Mahmood, which includes representatives from the Buildings Department, Police, Excise, and other departments.

Punjab CM Mohsin Naqvi had announced rehabilitation of the affected families and religious places. According to the data, collected by the correspondent, 19 churches and 85 houses of the Christian community were damaged and burnt in the city and the rural areas.

Meanwhile, a major dent in the investigation of two cases of anti-terrorism, registered with the city police, was caused with surfacing of a video of SP Bilal Mahmood Sulehri exonerating Mufti Mohammad Yunus, president of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) Jaranwala, of the attack charges. Interestingly, in the two FIRs, which were registered against 34 nominated and 600 unknown accused, Mufti Yunus Rizvi was nominated with a specific role of leading and instigating the mob, which set on fire and damaged churches and the houses of the Christians.

In this video, which went viral on social media, the SP is sitting with Mufti Yunus, along with other people, making statement of completely exonerating him of the charges. The SP said the Mufti was with him all the time on August 16, and he fully cooperated with the police to save the city from bigger losses.

Separately, Tanzeem-e-Islami ameer Shujauddin Shaikh said on Friday it was a religious and national duty of the government to protect the life, property and dignity of minorities.

Vehemently condemning the attack and arson of the homes, belongings and churches of the Christian community in Jaranwala, while addressing a meeting in Lahore, he said Islam fairly and squarely puts the responsibility of providing protection to the life, property and places of worship of minorities on the state. It is a responsibility of the state to take timely action over incidents of blasphemy, hold transparent investigation, and punish the perpetrators according to the law to pre-empt public reaction in future.

Notwithstanding, he said, rioting mobs could not be allowed to violate the law, attack the life, property and dignity of others and desecrate the religious sacraments of non-Muslims. He demanded the government must award exacting punishment to those found guilty of blasphemy as well as those responsible for destroying the life, property and churches of the Christian community, so that such events could be stopped in the future.