05/27/2024, 15.56
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Christian seriously wounded in Sarghoda in the latest blasphemy incident

by Shafique Khokhar

The victim, 72-year-old Nazir Masih, was beaten by an angry mob. His business and home were set on fire, as police failed to intervene. His family is on the run, while he lays in hospital in critical condition. Nine months after violence in Jaranwala, the Christian community in Punjab province continues to be the victim of the same hostility.

Sargodha (AsiaNews) – The latest case of anti-Christian violence was reported on Saturday in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, on the border with India.

This represents yet another instance of violence against Christians in the province, a trend of Islamic intolerance towards the minority that has been escalating since August 2023 when more than 20 churches and nearly 100 homes were attacked.

A mob brutally attacked and beat Nazir Masih, 72, a Christian man, setting fire to his home and business in Mujahid Colony, Sargodha, capital of Sargodha Division.

The mob acted following blasphemy allegations against the Christian. It also tried to beat the victim’s son Sultan Gill and his family, who fled. The latter’s shoe shop was also set on fire.

Due to the beatings he received, Nazir is currently in critical condition in hospital. The family, which includes 15 members, narrowly escaped further attacks, fleeing before the mob could strike again.

Numerous pictures and videos have been posted on social media, showing an angry crowd, including teenagers and children, with the bleeding man lying on the ground, repeatedly hit, despite vain attempts by some to stop the attacks.

Several uniformed Punjab police officers are seen mingled with the crowd, watching without intervening. Eventually, the police dispersed the mob in front of the victims' home, but 15 officers were reportedly injured, some seriously, as they tried to contain people.

Police have filed First Information Reports against 44 known and 450 unknown persons under the Terrorism Act.

As a result of this episode of violence, many Christians have fled the area to avoid further attacks by extremists.

For their part, local Church leaders have expressed deep concern over the incident, noting that this attack once again highlights the failure of the government and law enforcement agencies to curb the growing extremism and violence in society, despite the directives of the Supreme Court.

They urge Punjab law enforcement agencies and the local administration to ensure the safety of the Christian community and bring those responsible to justice, stressing the need for swift and impartial justice to restore trust in the legal system.

They call for a judicial inquiry – to be entrusted to Dr Shoaib Suddle, who is already committed to defending the rights of the country's minority communities – to determine who was responsible for the mob attack and hold police officials accountable for their failure to act.

In addition, they demand that false accusations of blasphemy against Christians not be recorded, and that Christians be provided with protection.

“It's alarming that people feel compelled to take the law into their own hands, indicating a severe loss of trust in the police and judiciary,” said Joseph Jansen, a human rights activist.

In his view, such incidents are reminiscent of the August 2023 violence in Jaranwala, sparked by an alleged desecration of the Qur'ān; for this reason, he urges the government to take immediate action to implement legal and administrative measures to curb the trend towards mob justice and to promote a tolerant and law-abiding society.

“I am deeply saddened and with a broken heart I condemn this horrific incident in Sargodha,” said Fr Khalid Rashid Asi, diocesan director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), speaking to AsiaNews. “No Christian can humiliate the Holy Qur'ān,” he added.

Sadly, Christians “are just implicated in such incidents to settle personal scores and for personal grudges,” he explained. “The mob has no right to lynch any person; there is the police and the legal system to provide justice to everyone.”

In his view, rising violence in the name of religion is due to the government's failure to de-radicalise extremists as well as the lack of political will to introduce substantial legal reforms in religious defamation cases.

Ultimately, for Fr Asi, “Serious action must be taken against those involved in such violence.”

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