Waiting for justice

March 3, 2024

Elders from the Christian community appreciate the Supreme Court’s role in the Jaranwala case

Waiting for justice


t has been longer than half a year since the Christian community in Jaranwala, a town in central Punjab, is waiting for justice after a mob vandalised churches and more than 100 houses.

A violent crowd in August last year burned down Christian-owned properties and scores of families had to flee their homes to save their lives. The rioting and the violence followed allegations of desecration of the Holy Quran near the home of two Christian brothers.

Supreme Court of Pakistan took notice of the matter. This was followed by a high-level investigation by the caretaker Punjab government. However, the SC bench, led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faiz Isa, rejected the government’s report, calling it unsatisfactory. The case has been adjourned for a date in office.

This hearing by SC a couple of weeks ago was set on a long pending request by some representatives of the Christian community. The request had been since December.

The Supreme Court, in its remarks, regretted that the Punjab government had failed to take action against the culprits and rejected its report.

“To stem barbaric, inhuman and vicious attacks, the state must act promptly and the courts seized with cases of attacks and vandalising of properties of different faiths must attend to and conclude the same on priority basis for quick deterrence to forestall such incidents in future,” the SC order read. “The report is worth throwing in the trash,” the chief judge observed.

As many as 22 cases were registered and 304 people were arrested following the attacks. However, only 18 challans were submitted before the trial court in the past six months.

“Basically, the court has cited two grounds in this matter,” Peter Jacob, the noted human rights and minorities rights defender, says. “One is that the report is incomplete as only 18 people have been accused in these cases, which means hundreds of the suspects have been exonerated in this case.” Secondly, he says, police had conducted flawed and weak investigations that could lead to the acquittal of those being prosecuted.

The court, he says, was also concerned whether investigations were also carried out regarding the alleged negligence of the local authorities and responsible officials and the court was unhappy again, concluding that nothing has been completed in this regard, too. “For the community, it is satisfactory that the SC has taken a kind of supervisory role.”

Although all legal redress and remedies shall have to come at the district and provincial level, having observed their performance already during the past six months, the oversight at the Supreme Court is the only hope that justice may be dispensed, Jacob says.

Importantly, soon after the Jaranwala incident, the CJP, who was CJ-designate at that time, also visited the place, met with some of the victims and expressed solidarity with the affected community.

Meanwhile, a group of Christian community leaders have urged the SC to direct the one-man commission of Dr Shoaib Suddle — appointed in 2019 to implement its 2014 order in a minority rights case — to conduct an inquiry and suggest action against the negligence and the people/ groups involved in this ugly incident. They have also moved a petition before the SC in this regard.

The petition pleads that the one-man commission appointed on January 8, 2019, in a suo motu hearing, should be asked to conduct a detailed inquiry and ascertain facts of the attack on the churches and properties of minorities in the Jaranwala tragedy. The group has also demanded that the SC direct the commission to act with such powers as conferred by the court and submit a report within a month. The federal and provincial governments should immediately implement the 2014 SC judgment on minority rights and furnish a report regarding compliance with the judgment within two months, it further prays.

“An early hearing might have helped. There is still potential. I also appeal to the new government in the Punjab to take cognizance of the Jaranwala incidents and ensure a thorough investigation that should lead to justice in these cases,” Jacob, who is one of the petitioners, says.

The writer is a staff reporter. He may be contacted at vaqargillani@gmail.com, @waqargillani

Waiting for justice