Pakistan Supreme Court Takes Up Case of Jaranwala Christians as It Dismisses Official Report on Riots

February 19, 2024

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Pakistan’s Supreme Court has rejected the Punjab government’s interim report on the anti-Christian riots that devastated Jaranwala in August 2023, describing the document as “worth throwing in the trash”.

The remark was made by the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Qazi Faez Isa, on February 13 as he headed a three-judge bench hearing a petition filed by the Christian community seeking an inquiry into the events of August 16 when a Muslim mob rampaged through the city’s Christian area.

The petition, which was taken up by the court, says the rights of minorities will be in jeopardy unless the facts about the violent attacks are established, as well as the extent of destruction caused.

One of the many churches ransacked and burned during the riots [Image credit: M. Arif/White Star]

The petition noted that “never in the history of Pakistan have so many churches/worship places been destroyed in a single incident in a single day”.

At least 24 churches and several dozen smaller chapels were set on fire, and the homes of more than 100 believers were burned, looted or vandalized.

The Supreme Court stated that Punjab police knew the people involved in the violence but were afraid to name them.

It gave the authorities ten days to submit a new report, and warned that if the new report were unsatisfactory, the court would dismiss or suspend officials.

Chief Justice Isa lamented that police did not try to stop the mobs but acted like silent spectators to the violence.

“By failing to stop the attackers, the police undermined public confidence in themselves,” he said. “Apparently the Punjab police appeared intimidated by the attackers.”

The official report stated that 304 suspects were arrested following the riots, but only 18 challans (charge sheets) were submitted in the courts – a fact that the Chief Justice said made him feel ashamed.

He added that many in Pakistan complain about Islamophobia in other countries while they are themselves involved in mistreating people from minority religions.

Barnabas provided aid for many Christian families made homeless in the riots, including supplying them with desperately needed warm quilts and food 

The riots began after torn pages of the Quran were reported to have been discovered in the street. Two Christian brothers were accused of desecrating the pages and charged under sections 295C and 295B of the Pakistan Penal Code for allegedly committing “blasphemy”.

Chief Justice Isa said that, as a Pakistani citizen, it is embarrassing for him that Pakistan reports the highest number of blasphemy cases in the world. Some people, he said, have turned it into a business.

“Those who have no knowledge about Islam are pretending to be authorities,” declared the senior judge. “Islam prohibits attacks on places of worship.”

The court noted that the government and media must play their roles in combating extremism, violence, terrorism and hatred. The media, it said, should be mandated to publish special messages promoting religious harmony.

The court gave the Punjab government two months to submit a report containing details of all the places of worship belonging to minority communities. It adjourned on February 13 for an indefinite period.

Give thanks that the Supreme Court has taken up the Christian community’s petition, and for the support of the Chief Justice of Pakistan. Pray that this will result in a full inquiry into the causes of the riots and to the response of the authorities towards traumatized Christians made homeless by the violence.

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