Caritas Lahore: Deep disappointment at acquittal of arsonists of Christian quarter
by Kamran Chaudhry

In 2013 the Joseph Colony was set on fire. A crowd of 3 thousand Muslims wanted to avenge an alleged blasphemy. Christian lawyer warns of risk retaliation in sponsoring cases of religious persecution. Leaders of Punjab have "great alliances with jihadist groups".


Lahore (AsiaNews) - Pakistani Christian leaders have expressed "deep disappointment" for the acquittal of the 115 suspects in the arson attack on an entire Christian neighborhood in Lahore in 2013. An anti-terrorism court acquitted all the accused of having set fire to more than 150 houses, shops and two churches and forcing hundreds of Christians to flee.

Rojar Randhawa Operations Management at Caritas Pakistan Lahore (CPL) told AsiaNews. "It's a sheer disappointment. The message is clear for us; those who attack minorities and openly preach hate can go scot-free. Perhaps the pictures and video footages clearly showing faces was not enough evidence. Where is the national Action Plan”. The reference is to the policy to combat terrorism adopted in 2015 by the government in Islamabad following the Taliban attack on a military school in Peshawar.

CPL was among several Christian organizations which distributed food and non-food items when over 3000 strong mob set ablaze more than 150 houses belonging to Christians in Lahore's Joseph colony in 2013. The attack was supposedly to "take revenge of the blasphemy" committed by a Christian Sawan Masih two days earlier. Residents were forced to flee and at least 35 people were injured. The mob looted, stoned, doused in acid and then burned the Christian settlement.

Blasphemy carries a mandatory death sentence in Pakistan where there is a significant risk of mob violence in such cases. However the courts have never convicted those who attack Christian settlements.  In 2011, the Anti-Terrorism Court in Faisalabad acquitted all 70 Muslims in Gojra carnage after the continued absence of witnesses in trials as well as due to a lack of evidence. Ten Christians were killed, seven of them burned alive, while four Churches were destroyed in Gojra and the nearby Korian village following a blasphemy allegation.

Ijaz Farhat Advocate High Court and former President of Christians Lawyers Association of Pakistan CLAP blames both public pressure and laziness of Christian leaders.  "The victims are hijacked by NGOs, many try to flee the country and nobody pursues the case. The Church leaders only visit the day court passes judgments. Christian lawyers are at high risk when taking up cases of minority persecution. Nobody provides us security from the crowd of hundreds waiting outside the court", he said.

Irfan Mufti Muslim director of South Asia Partnership Pakistan,  a member of South Asian civil society movement, said the court judgment shows strength of religious lobby.  "We had no expectations; our faith in legal system has shattered. The political leaders of Punjab province and the ruling elite have strong alliances with jihadi groups. There is no justice for minority who continue to be victimized".