Police do nothing as homes are ransacked.
by Barbara G. Baker
ISTANBUL, September 13 (Compass) — A mob of 200 Muslim protestors ransacked at least 16 homes of Christians in Lahore on Saturday, September 10, after a drug addict disrupted an Islamic service. Younis Masih, 35, was accused of insulting the Muslim prophet Mohammed.
Masih, a member of Pakistan’s historical Christian community, faces several years in jail without bail while a lower Punjab court deliberates his case. If he is convicted, Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws require that he be executed.
The angry demonstrations broke out in Madina Chowk, a residential area of the Amar Sidhu district of Lahore, after Masih was accused of making “derogatory remarks” against Mohammed on Friday night, September 9.
According to an investigative team from the Lahore-based Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), the dispute was sparked by a quarrel Masih started with the imam of the local mosque. The imam and other neighbors were holding a midnight qawali (Muslim worship service based on mystical Sufi singing) in a nearby Christian’s home.
While the musicians were singing, Masih entered and disrupted the service, demanding to know the names of their five Muslim saints, the panjtan. A drug addict high on heroin at the time, Masih persisted in arguing with Imam Hafiz Abdul Aziz.
Finally the Christian hosting the service ordered Masih to leave his home. Then, according to a September 11 report in the Lahore-based Daily Times, “Christian residents of the area beat up Younis and told him to apologize,” but he reportedly refused to take back his comments.
The next morning Masih threw bricks at the imam’s door, prompting a group of Muslims to surround him and beat him severely. In the ensuing scuffle, his wife Meena ran to support him, but a crowd of mostly youths started beating her as well, ripping her clothes until she was partially disrobed.
Later that day, a Christian who had been involved in beating Masih told the imam that the addict had blasphemed against the prophet Mohammed. The CLAAS report noted, “This was done to save the skin of those responsible for tearing the clothes of Meena,” since Pakistan’s Hudood Ordinances prescribe tough penalties for even partially disrobing a woman in public.
That evening (September 10), the imam went and registered a First Information Report (FIR) at the Factory Area police station against Masih, charging him with committing blasphemy under Section 295-C of the Pakistan penal code. No known investigation was conducted into the charges, as required by law, before registering the case.
Shortly afterwards, the accused man arrived at the police station, accompanied by his wife and another Christian named Nobel Masih. Younis Masih was apparently planning to file a Hudood case against his wife’s attackers.
Refusing to listen to Masih’s complaints, the police on duty immediately arrested him and the man accompanying him. By that time, announcements were being made in nearby mosques, calling for vengeance against Christians who had desecrated the name of the prophet Mohammed.
In short order, roads into the area were closed off, and a mob of 200 Muslim protestors armed with sticks and bricks began to attack and ransack Christian homes, breaking down doors and even stoning the local Bait Ania Church, where they threw Bibles onto the floor. CLAAS documented damages in 16 Christian homes, including smashed doors and appliances, as well as electric and gas meters ripped from the walls.
According to the CLAAS team, which arrived at the scene about 10 p.m. Saturday night, the police called in to control the incident “did not do anything to stop the mob from attacking the innocent Christians and destroying their houses.” Rather, the police units went to the home of a local councilor until the rampage was over.
The following day, Muslim community leaders claimed they had assured local Christians that they only wanted Masih punished, and that announcements were going out in the mosques appealing to people to “control their emotions.” But by Sunday evening, 50 Christian families from Amar Sidhu had fled from their homes, fearing further reprisals from militant Muslims.
“If the police try to hush up the investigation,” Muslim leader Tariq Mahmood told the Daily Times, “we will not keep quiet.”
Masih was detained Saturday night under police station lock-up and then transferred to Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail on Sunday morning “for his own protection,” police said. Nobel Masih has since been released into the custody of a Christian member of the Provincial Assembly.
According to several Amar Sadhu Christians who spoke with the CLAAS team, the newly jailed Christian had supported his wife and three children by selling drugs for one of two Muslim groups known to be pushing narcotics in the area. The alleged blasphemy incident could have been provoked by rival drug peddlers wanting Masih to switch groups and sell drugs for them, the sources said.
More than 4 million Pakistanis are drug addicts, with approximately half of them addicted to heroin. Although illegal, drugs remain inexpensive and relatively available in sprawling cities like Lahore and Karachi.
“None of the Christians want to take legal action against the Muslims who attacked them,” the CLAAS report concluded, stating that they feared for the lives of themselves and their families if they did so.
Lawyers for the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, however, said police had promised to register a case against the assailants, in response to the lawyers’ application filed yesterday (September 12).
In a separate incident the same day — this time against a Muslim accused of blasphemy — a mob estimated at 3,000 men armed with lethal weapons attacked and burned down the Farooka police post in Sahiwal, 100 miles southwest of Lahore.
The attack came on the heels of announcements made over mosque loudspeakers throughout the community that a police sub-inspector had desecrated the Quran. At least 300 rioters were arrested and another 2,000 booked for disorderly conduct in the ensuing melee, according to police statements in Pakistan’s English press.
“Blasphemy and desecration have made people’s lives miserable in Punjab,” observed a Daily Times editorial today. Editor Najam Sethi decried vandalism as a national “reflex action” whenever anyone was accused of committing blasphemy.
Sethi fingered semi-literate clerics for issuing “mini-fatwas” over TV channels or the Internet, holding them responsible for “brainwashing the nation into a colossal vandalizing mob.” One such “on-line fatwa factory” is actually run by a federal state minister, Sethi noted.
Copyright 2005 Compass Direct