11/21/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Judicial inquiry into Sangla Hill anti-Christian attacks

by Qaiser Felix

The visit of the Punjab Prime Minister to scenes of the aftermath of mass anti-Christian violence was followed by a pledge to take severe action against perpetrators and orders to repair damage done to places of worship. But Christian leaders are reiterating their call for a repeal of the blasphemy law first and foremost.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Prime Minister of Punjab, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, has announced the opening of an inquiry into anti-Christian violence in Sangla Hill. Here, on 12 November, a crowd of around 2,000 people, apparently spurred by accusations of blasphemy against a local Christian, attacked churches, convents and Catholic and Protestant schools.

In his visit to Sangla Hill on 17 November Elahi told church authorities he had written to the Lahore High Court so that it may designate a judge to investigate the case. The Prime Minister then promised to take severe action against perpetrators of the attacks, which he harshly condemned. He said he had already suspended an official of the Nankana district police for failing in his duties.

During the visit, Fr Samson Dilawar, parish priest of Sangla Hill, asked the Prime Minister to officially denounce the true aggressors. The priest reiterated his call that Yousaf Masih, a 50-year-old detained for blasphemy, be released, because the accusations made against him were baseless and motivated only by economic interests.

The director of the Youth Commission of Faisalbad Diocese, Fr Khalid Rasheed Asi, talked to the Minister of Religious Affairs, Ijazul Haq, who went to Sangla Hill with Prime Minister Elahi. The priest asked the minister to repeal the "cruel" blasphemy law and to judge those guilty of the attack under the anti-terrorism law. The same appeals were made by the bishop of Faisalbad, Mgr Joseph Coutts. During a press conference, he highlighted how the blasphemy law was the reason underlying many cases of violence in Pakistan. The bishop asked specifically that legal action be taken against the nazim (head) of the local Council and the clerics who instigated people to violence in mosques.

Three members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also visited Sangla Hill. Hina Jillani, HRCP vice chairperson for Punjab, said the attack appeared to have been instigated and provoked by local elements. The woman denounced the "clear negligence" of police in managing the incident; the forces of order did not impose Section 144 – pertaining to the gathering of people into groups – on the area, although they were well aware of the tension. The HRCP will research happenings at Sangla Hill and submit proposals to the government.

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