» 06/11/2011 13:09
Punjab: acquittal for 70 Muslim extremists on trial for the Gojra massacre
In August 2009, ten people died, eight burnt alive. Four churches were destroyed. Threats against Christian witnesses force them to flee to avoid further violence. Muslim leader says Christians “deserve” to be murdered. Catholic priest wonders whether minorities will ever have justice.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – Pakistan’s fundamentalists are rejoicing following the acquittal verdict. The country’s Christian minority is “under shock” because, this time as well, the massacre of innocent victims done in the name of the infamous blasphemy law will go unpunished. The justice system also shows its powerlessness vis-à-vis extremists who can carry out heinous crimes with total impunity, whilst the government remains silent. Meanwhile, a Muslim religious leader publicly says that Christians “deserve” to be murdered.
A Pakistani anti-terrorism court acquitted 70 people who, in various roles, were involved in the Gojra massacre of August 2009 (see Fareed Khan, “Eight Christians burned alive in Punjab,” in AsiaNews, 2 August 2009). The anti-Christian violence broke out following blasphemy allegations. During a wedding, a group of Christians supposedly burnt pages of the Qur‘an, a pretext used to strike at the religious minority.
During the attack by hundreds of extremists (brought in by bus and trucks), ten people died, eight burnt alive. Four churches and various homes were also set on fire.
Following the Gojra attack, instead of arresting the culprits, police, twisting the facts, took into custody a number of Christians for attacking the “other group”. The unjustly jailed Christians were eventually released but after several months.
According to the court, the acquittal last Tuesday was due to the absence of Christian witnesses in the courtroom and the lack of evidence against the accused.
Sources close to the Catholic Church in Lahore, on condition of anonymity, said, “Christian witnesses were under constant threats meant to force them to withdraw their accusations”.
Two of the 70 people acquitted were released the day before the sentence. The other 68 had already been released on bail some time ago.
The main complainant, Phanias Masih, had to flee Pakistan last year along with his family, fearing more violence.
Fr Yaqoob Yousaf, vicar at Gojra’s Sacred Heart parish, told AsiaNews that “Masih and a couple of other key witnesses fled before February” when community leaders “reached a compromise to have the case withdrawn”.
Fr Habib Xavier, from the Diocese of Lahore, the verdict is “shocking”, similar to the Shanti Nagar affair in 1998 when a Muslim mob burnt 25,000 houses. At the time, the accused were also released on bail. “Today, we see the people who burn homes and kill the innocent go free. It was supposed to be fair trial,” he said. “Will minorities ever get justice?”
However, to understand the madness and power of the extremists, it is sufficient to listen to the words of Maulana Kashmiri, a Muslim leader in Punjab.
“There are no witnesses because they [the Christians] know that they are wrong. We got justice. Even though none of us did it, Christians still deserve it [death], because they are blasphemers.”
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