It was an unusual morning for the Christians of Gojra city, district Toba Tek Singh, Punjab province, when they faced an unexpected attack by a mob that was led by Muslim religious Muslim leaders and masked men. Some were assaulted while leaving for their for work, while many were at home taking their breakfast. As the day started, they were forced to flee for their lives with their families. Interestingly, many Muslims provided shelter to helpless Christians. Gojra is a city of 150,000 people. Gojra is home to 3,000 Christian families; most of them are laborers.
On Aug. 1, around three thousand violent Muslim marauders attacked the Christian community of Gojra, Punjab province, and burned alive 7 Christians, including two children aged 6 and 13, while two more people died after few days. Four women were mong the dead, while 20 others were injured. According to one report, about 25 Christians have been killed for their faith since 1972.
This is now the third incident of violence of this kind in Punjab within the last two months in which Christians were attacked following allegations of blasphemy.
Group Captain (Rtd) Cecil Chaudhry, Executive Secretary of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), said: “These attacks are deplorable, and the later violence in Gojra should have been foreseen and forestalled by the local authorities. That they failed to do so makes it all the more important for the police bring the perpetrators of the violence to justice. They must especially bring the extremists who instigated these and other attacks to trial under the Anti-Terrorism Act”.
After entering into the colony they looted and completely burned at least 140 homes and two churches. For almost an hour, they acted unimpeded. “It is clear that the attackers were trained people. They used sophisticated chemicals which destroyed the houses completely, even the iron girders were bent down badly,” said Chudhary Amjad Waraich, a former MNA from the area. According to eyewitnesses, the attackers first looted every valuable thing, from jewelry to computers, and then burned everything, including clothes, food, utensils, beds, school books (including Islamiat books) and Bibles in the houses.
Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities affairs – the only Christian in the federal cabinet - blamed local administrators for not providing adequate security to the Christians. Bhatti also said that this incident could be averted if police and administration had reacted efficiently.
Some Muslims were protesting against alleged sacrilege of the Quran reportedly by Talib Masih, an illiterate Christian man, in the village of Korian (about 4 miles Gojra).
Rana Sanaullah, Punjab’s law minister, told the media that an initial investigation proved that no desecration of the Quran happened in the area during the last week. Local mullahs apparently added to the heightened emotions among Muslim believers in the region who were demanding the head of Talib Masih. A general strike was called and demonstrations began early in the morning, around 9 AM. The demonstration was lea\d by Molvi Noor Mohammed of Suni Tehreek, and others from Ahle Sunnat, Anjman Sapahi Sahaba, and other fanatical groups. Mostly, the demonstrators were from madrassas.
They were armed and were chanting slogans against Christians. According to a media report, sources in Gojra have revealed that the killers came from outside the city, from Jhang, which is the base for Sipah Sahaba, a banned organization. Some of the marauders chanted ‘burn them alive’ in reference to the beleaguered Christians. According to various media reports, such banned Islamist organizations, who have close links with the Taliban, have made made strongholds in southern Punjab, as well as tribal areas and the Swat region. Even so, media outlets sympathetic to the Taliban militants have rejected reports of the swelling strength of the Islamists.
While talking to Christians in Gojra, Governor Punjab Salman Taseer said “Same elements are involved in it that had turned Swat into a hell.” The Los Angles Times was told that that trouble in Gojra began July 26, when allegations surfaced that Christians at a marriage ceremony had put henna on pages of the Quran. “In reality, the henna put on newspaper pages, not on the Quran,” Bhatti said,
“The police visited the Christian community later that night, warning them of possible violence the next day. Some left that very night. But it appears others didn't receive the warning,” weekly Time magazine says on Aug.5. According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the attack was pre-planned. Sanaullah told The Associated Press that members of the banned Sunni group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and its al-Qaida-linked offshoot Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have been arrested as suspected attackers.
Christians of Gojra are still very angry and frightened. “They killed us because we are Christians and we are poor. They were calling us dogs and American agents,” Basharat Gill, a local Christian, told MINORITIES CONCERN OF PAKISTAN. Christian were also sad about the way a section of TV channels portray one-sided picture of the situation. “Especially, we were astonished to see the reporting of a TV network, whose one anchor particularly has been preaching hatred against religious minorities, for couple of hours, which was totally against journalistic ethics. It seemed bias and against Christians who were in the line of fire,” Gill said. “We condemn a section of electronic media which tried to portray the incidents as communal clash rather that attack on one community,” said National Commission of Justice and Peace (NCJP), Catholic Church’s human rights body, in a press statement.
On Aug. 2, local Christians blocked the main railway track for several hours by placing the coffins of the killed people on the railway line. They protested against attackers and demanded an investigation of the brutal killing of innocent people. They blamed Qadeer Awan, President of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (which is ruling the Punjab province) of Gojra and some other Muslim religious leaders for instigating and leading the violent attack against Christians. After ten hours’ tense negotiations, police registered a first information report (FIR) against 17 named persons and 800 unidentified including the Toba Tek Singh district coordination officer (DCO) and the district police officer (DPO) – but not by name - on charges of murder, attempted murder and terrorism.
“The killing and carnage of Gojra is not a solitary incident but a phenomenon that has been there for quite some time,” said Peter Jacob of NCJP. Along with human rights activists, many Muslim religious leaders strongly condemned this act of brutality. Pakistan’s parliament has also unanimously condemned the attacks.
Attack Was Pre-Planned
According to daily Khabrain Aug. 17, the police have arrested an accused person named Khalid who disclosed that the Gojra incident was pre-planned and the master mind of the incident was from a banned organization who lives in Awan Colony from where he provided ammunition and chemicals to the masked Muslim marauders.
“Although the Punjab government of Mian Shahbaz Sharif has announced a judicial inquiry of the incident, it is highly unlikely that the report will come into light,” some Christian leaders said. Sharif was the chief minister of Punjab at the time when a Muslim mob burned down the whole Christian village of Shantinagar in 1997. A judicial inquiry was initiated by the Punjab government but the report of that inquiry was never made public despite Christians’ continuous entreaties.
“Christians historically have occupied the lower rungs of society, largely relegated to menial jobs. A law against making derogatory remarks about Islam or desecrating the Quran is often used to settle scores against Christians,” said Los Angles Times of Aug. 6, 2009. Cross Version: Police has registered a cross version against 29 Christians (including many Church leaders) and 100 unknown persons for their alleged involvement in the Gojra incident. “The application given by Ghulam Murtaza, a local Muslim, on Aug. 8, 2009 was made part of the existing FIR against the Muslim attackers,” Atif Jamil Pagaan, a human rights activist said.
Arrest of Mukhtar Masih
According to Atif Jamil Pagaan, police has and Ahmadis) in Pakistan. A press statement issued by the NCJP on August 25 in Lahore, the second biggest city of Pakistan, said that the campaign appeal seeks the immediate repeal of the laws, which are based on religion, referring to the violent attacks on Christian in Kasur, Gojra and other places. According to data collected by NCJP, from 1986 to August 2009, at least 964 persons were alleged under this law. 479 of these were Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis, 14 Hindus and 10 were unknown. About 32 persons have been extra judicially murdered by the angry mob or an individual, the statement admitted that it has arrested Mukhtar Masih, who was nominated in the Korian case for desecrating Quran. Three Christians, Talib Masih, Mukhtar Masih and Imran Masih, were nominated in this case.
Christians say that blasphemy laws were one of the major causes of the incident. The law was introduced by General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-88), which has been widely misused against religious minorities and as well as against many Muslims to settle personal scores. According to official reports, to date, over 500 people have been charged for breaching the Blasphemy Law.
“The blasphemy laws, while purporting to protect Islam and religious sensitivities of the Muslim majority, are vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and judiciary in a way which amounts to harassment and persecution of religious minorities,” Amnesty said on Aug. 10.
“Blasphemy laws have become a ticket in the hands of the majority to persecute and victimize the minority communities if they don’t easily submit to their inferior status in society,” said an editorial in Dawn - a Pakistani daily.
Minority Rights Group International ranks Pakistan as the world's sixth- most dangerous country for minorities.
Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar says that the Gojra tragedy "has increased the urgency of revisiting the (blasphemy) laws," Time magazine reported on Aug. 5.
NCJP’s Campaign: The NCJP has started collecting signatures in support of repealing the controversial blasphemy laws (especially Sections 295-B, C and 298-A, B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code), which have been widely misused against religious minorities (mainly against Christians and Ahmadis) in Pakistan.
A press statement issued by the NCJP on August 25 in Lahore, the second biggest city of Pakistan, said that the campaign appeal seeks the immediate repeal of the laws, which are based on religion, referring to the violent attacks on Christian in Kasur, Gojra and other places. According to data collected by NCJP, from 1986 to August 2009, at least 964 persons were alleged under this law. 479 of these were Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis, 14 Hindus and 10 were unknown. About 32 persons have been extra judicially murdered by the angry mob or an individual, the statement added.
Aftab Mughal edits Minority Concern of Pakistan.