August Issue 2010

By | News & Politics | Published 10 years ago

Editor’s Note: The brutal and senseless murder of two brothers in Sialkot recently is part of a history of mob violence and a tradition of people taking the law into their own hands in Pakistan. It sadly has many similarities to several incidents of violence against minorities that have occurred over the years. Just last month, two Christian brothers accused of blasphemy were shot and killed when leaving a court in Faisalabad. The story below talks about a culture of violence and system of injustice that led to the Faisalabad murders. The Sialkot murders re-enforce the notion that Pakistan is a society hemorrhaging from within: a place where the law doesn’t matter, the state has failed to protect its citizens and human life has little value.

Two Christian brothers accused of writing a blasphemous pamphlet were gunned down at the sessions court in Faisalabad on July 19.

Pastor Rashid Emmanuel, 32, and Sajid Emmanuel, 30, a graduate business student, were arrested on July 2 and arraigned under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws’ section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code on charges that the pamphlet contained blasphemous remarks about Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

The incident took place when they were leaving the court under police custody after a hearing. Both were immediately taken to the Allied Hospital in the city where they were pronounced dead. Mohammad Hussain, a police officer accompanying them, was also seriously wounded. Despite the police’s presence, the killers easily escaped. However, Faisalabad’s regional police officer (RPO) Aftab Ahmad Cheema said that the police had discovered a clue about the killers and would apprehend them soon.

At least 10 Christians and Muslims were injured as a result of clashes that broke out between the two communities after the incident. Rioters caused extensive damage to a church.

The demonstrators also damaged some shops owned by members of both communities. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd and arrested some young men in connection with the rioting. An exchange of fire was also reported between the two groups. At around 10 p.m. announcements were made from some mosques in Waris Pura, a thickly populated Christian area in Faisalabad, housing nearly 100,000 Christians, asking people to come out to fight against Christians. The local administration deployed a heavy contingent of police and enforced Section 144 to control the situation. However, the area remained tense even more than a week after. The funeral of the two brothers was held the very next morning to avoid further clashes between Christians and Muslims.

In an attempt to appease the Christian community, RPO Cheema and commissioner Tahir Hussain held a meeting with the Catholic Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad. Additionally, Punjab’s Inspector General of Police Tariq Saleem Dogar suspended SP (Investigation) Faisalabad, Muhammad Hanif and DSP Civil Lines Ashiq Jutt on account of negligence of duty and ordered departmental proceedings against them.

The Emmanuel brothers could have been saved had the law enforcement agencies taken action against those who were inciting the public to action. On July 16, incendiary announcements were made from some local mosques against local Christians in Waris Pura. Some Muslims also distributed flyers calling for mass action against Christians. Earlier on July 10 and 11, Muslim mobs marched through the city, demanding the death penalty for both alleged blasphemers. They stoned the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Waris Pura and burnt tyres on the roads to demonstrate their anger. Furthermore, they also tried to attack and burn the area where the Emmanuel brothers’ house is located. The protesters chanted slogans, raised weapons and vowed to teach a lesson to the Christian community. Shockingly, the mob also threatened to take action themselves if the brothers were not executed in accordance with the blasphemy laws.

Local Christians maintain that the allegation against the two men was fabricated. In fact, no evidence to support the charges against them has emerged. Newsline learnt that the handwritten, photocopied pamphlet, which had enraged Muslims, was distributed by unknown persons, yet the names and telephone numbers of the two Christian brothers, Rashid and Sajid, were listed on them. Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal Minister for Minority Affairs of Pakistan, said that the suspected men were falsely accused of blasphemy by people harbouring a “grudge” against them. “It is not possible that somebody would put his name and telephone number on any blasphemous material,” remarked Mehboob Sada, director of Christian Study Centre Rawalpindi.

Incidentally, Khurram Shahzad, believed to be an activist of Tehrik-i-Hurmat-i-Rasool, had the two brothers arrested. Surprisingly, he does not live in Faisalabad but in another city, Samundri. The Tehrik-i-Hurmat-i-Rasool is a relatively new organisation in the area.

Christians say that the murder of the Emmanuels is the result of the negligence of the police and local government authorities, and the alleged bias of the Punjab government against religious minorities. Media reports suggest that the Punjab government of the PML-N has close links with banned militant organisations of the area and that many supporters of the extremists form part of the police and the establishment who encourage them to attack religious minorities or look the other way when minorities are targeted.

Apart from that, militant organisations like the Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Sipah-e-Mohammad and the Mukhatar Force have a strong presence in the region. The local media has reported that there are some religious leaders who incite hatred against Christians and liberal Muslims as well. Unfortunately, the Punjab Law Minister, Rana Sanaullah used to visit the speakers on a regular basis.

Faisalabad has a long history of religious intolerance. The recent murders reminded Christians of the Gojra incident which occured one year ago. Nine Christians were burnt alive, several were injured, and two churches and more than 120 Christian homes were destroyed by a mob which was enraged about the allegation that a Christian in a nearby village had committed blasphemy. There were other major incidents targeting Christians other than Gojra: Shantinagar (1997), Sangla Hill (2005), Qasur, Koria, and Sialkot (2009). Christians form only 1.5 per cent of the total population of the country, but it is mostly they who are implicated under the blasphemy laws.

According to the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a human rights body of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan, 35 Christians and Muslims have been killed extrajudicially in connection with allegations involving blasphemy since 1992. Moreover, since 1987 at least 1,035 men and women including Muslims, Ahmedis, Christians and Hindus have been accused, though none of the sentences passed against them have been upheld by the higher judiciary of the country.

A recent judgement of the Lahore High Court illustrates how these laws have been misused. On July 21, 2010, the court released a mentally ill Muslim woman Zaibul Nisa, 60, who was held in jail without trial for 14 years on allegations of desecrating the Holy Quran.

The blasphemy laws were introduced by General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s to win the support of hard-line religious groups. Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code carries the death penalty for this. The laws have been criticised by religious minorities and human rights organisations. The Asian Human Rights Commission demands that the government should follow the amendment made in the blasphemy laws that stipulates that no First Information Report (FIR) for blasphemy can be filed without the presence of an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police.

On July 21, the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, Justice Khawaja Sharif, ordered a judicial inquiry into the Faisalabad incident on the request of the Punjab government and appointed Faisalabad District and Sessions Judge/Labour Court Sheikh Muhammad Yousaf as the inquiry judge. Christian leaders are sceptical about the outcome of the inquiry. They say the police officers who were declared responsible for the Gojra incident by a judicial inquiry were later promoted by the provincial government.

Christian and civil rights organisations are of the view that till the state does not consider religious minorities, including Christians, as equal citizens and does not review the controversial blasphemy laws, the situation is likely to remain the same, and minorities lives, religious places and properties will continue to be at risk.

Related article: No Room for the ‘Other’

Aftab Alexander Mughal is the editor of the Minority Concern of Pakistan and former National Executive Secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of Pakistan.