The president bishop of the Church of Pakistan (CoP) has demanded a judicial inquiry into the Jaranwala incident as he renewed calls for punishing the perpetrators in accordance with the law and implementing concrete measures to prevent similar incidents from taking place in the future.
Addressing the members of the Lahore Bar Association during a special reference on the Jaranwala tragedy, CoP President Bishop Azad Marshall condemned the attacks on churches and homes of poor Christians in Jaranwala on August 16 after two Christian youths were falsely accused of committing blasphemy.
“At least 22 churches and 86 homes were vandalized by the rioters, who also desecrated hundreds of Bibles and other holy books of the Christians in Jaranwala on that fateful day. It pains my heart to say that this tragedy unfolded in the presence of police who acted as silent spectators as the rioters went on a rampage in different neighborhoods of the area,” said Marshall.
The church leader lamented that though judicial inquiries were conducted into similar incidents in Gojra and Joseph Colony, their reports have yet to surface.
“One wonders if appropriate steps were taken to stop such incidents, then there would have been no Jaranwala incident. Now, let us not lose this opportunity to firmly work together in seeking the answers,” he emphasized.
Bishop Marshall said that prevention of such incidents from recurring could not be ensured without accountability of those responsible for the security lapses and introducing changes in the investigation procedures, especially in cases involving blasphemy allegations.
“Law enforcement agencies should be held accountable for their prolonged inaction against the rioters. This is not the first time where police have surrendered to mobs, giving them a free hand to destroy everything that came their way. “The misuse of blasphemy laws to settle personal vendettas is a well-known but despite recommendations of the Islamabad High Court and other government forums no attempt has been made to legislate against false accusations which can be a strong deterrent against fake cases,” he said.
He added that to deter false accusers, it is essential to consider imposing the same punishment they falsely accuse others of. “This approach would act as a strong deterrent against malicious allegations, ensuring the seriousness of such accusations is never taken lightly again.”
The bishop also called for a unified law against the desecration of all holy scriptures, along with consistent application regardless of faith affiliation. “This is essential for promoting equality and fairness within the legal system,” he stressed.
Marshall also recommended that a comprehensive investigation led by senior officials should be conducted prior to filing a blasphemy FIR.
“This could prevent unwarranted arrests and the prolonged detention of individuals without sufficient evidence. This approach would uphold human rights and mitigate wrongful incarceration,” he said.
Concluding his speech, the church leader demanded a transparent judicial inquiry into the underlying factors that contribute to such violence in the name of religion.
“Implementing the recommendations of such inquiries would be a preventive measure against future attacks, ensuring that justice is served and that communities can coexist peacefully,” he said.
Addressing the bar members before Marshall, LBA President Rana Intezar Hussain strongly condemned the Jaranwala incident and said the Bar was also considering filing petitions in this regard.
A resolution was also passed after the reference, calling for a stern punishment of the rioters and demanding the government ensure that no such incident takes place in the future.
On Aug 16, a violent mob of hundreds ransacked and torched various churches and attacked the residences of members of the Christian community after some locals alleged that several desecrated pages of the Quran had been found near a house at Cinema Chowk in Jaranwala, where two Christian brothers resided.
The violence drew condemnation from domestic and international human rights groups.
Amnesty International called for the repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or Islamic religious figures can be sentenced to death. While authorities have yet to carry out a death sentence for blasphemy, often just an accusation can incite mobs to violence, lynchings, and killings.
Rghts groups say blasphemy allegations have been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.
Vedant Patel, a spokesperson for the US State Department, urged Pakistan to conduct a full investigation. “We support peaceful freedom of expression and the right to freedom of religion and belief for everybody,” he said in Washington on Wednesday.