Christians of Pakistan targeted by aggravated Mobs after Blasphemy Allegations

On August 16, 2023, Pastor Saleem Masih and his two sons Raja Amir and Rocky Masih were charged with defying the holy Quran. The youngsters were falsely accused of tearing pages of Quran, throwing them on the ground, and writing insulting remarks on the pages, been arrested by the local police on August 17, 2023.

It was early morning at about 6 am when the people just got up, heard an announcement from the loudspeaker of a local mosque declaring that Christian sinners committing Kufr (unbelief) would be killed and burned. In less than a half-hour, a crowed of local Muslims (over thousand people) gathered there and invaded Pastor Saleem’s house with the goal to kill, but the family was able to  escape  and went into hiding for life safety.

The angry mob rampaged across Jaranwala district Faisalabad, began attacking Christian communities including 26 Churches including Catholic, Presbyterian, Salvation Army and other denominations and more than 60 homes of Christians were given fire. Christians hardly save their lives by running away for safety.

CTS team visit to Jaranwala: 

Christians’ True Spirit – CTS got the word and the team headed by Katherine Sapna, Executive Director rushed towards the incident place on August 17, 2023 to show solidarity with the affected and to console them after this brutal attack. With a heavy heart CTS team visited the burnt houses in Christian Colony, Essa Nagri and the villages nearby, also the mainstream churches Catholic, Presbyterian, Salvation Army and Church of Pakistan and seen the disgrace the sacred places of Christians’ worship. We felt pain seeing holy bibles burnt and humiliated by the violent extremists.

CTS team could meet up a few people in the towns, noticed in fear, depression and helplessness. The innocent Christians had several questions in their eyes as they could not save their houses from the extremists. It was mourning everywhere people just crying and asking for justice. During the visit we saw a different example of neighborhood, the Christian residents claimed that the Muslim neighbors become aggressive after the announcements in the laud speakers of the local mosques in Jaranwala city, came together and attacked Christian houses, looted the valuable things (gold jewelry, animals, electronics) and later they burn the houses in to ashes.

We noticed the entire community in trauma and fear after this unexpected incident. The residents reported, it was early morning about 6:30am, they heard the announcement in the mosque’s laud-speakers and runaway to save their lives and hide themselves and their  families far away in the corn fields for two days and two nights as they had no money to travel to outside the city. They hardly could save lives when the houses were given fire but cried as they were stripped of everything they had worked for over the years.

The affected women informed CTS team, they cried on return to their places as nothing left in the houses except ashes.

The incident left locals socked and feared and feeling insecure in their places and lived hide in the fields whereas the weather is too hot and strangle.

State’s response: 

Soon after the occurrence, politicians of main-stream parties condemned the incident. Prime Minister Pakistan (interim government), Chief Justice of Pakistan, Chief of Army not only condemned the incident but also visited the place and assured to the affected people in Jaranwala to provide justice.

The Prime Minister claimed that the interim government would try to differentiate between politics and law, “there is a rule of law and there is a rule of order. We will ensure that rule of order is not compromised in any way. Rule of order would ensure and lead us to the rule of law, “he added.

The Federal as well as Punjab government showed concern and ordered to get registered legal cases against the culprits and arrest them as soon as possible. Syed Mohsin Raza Naqvi, the current interim Chief Minister Punjab assured the affected that all damaged churches and vandalized homes will be restored at earliest, such incidents are against Islam he said. CM rebuked elements behind mob violence as he see conspiracy behind Jaranwala melee, cast doubt over allegations of blasphemy.

The local police have arrested over 200 people and started investigation.

Background of the incident: 

There are different rumors concerning the mob attack over Christians’ in Jaranwala.

1-     Blasphemy allegations:

Pastor Saleem Masih and his two sons Raja Amir s/o Saleem Masih and Rocky Masih s/o Saleem Maish was falsely accused of tearing pages of Quran, throwing them on the ground, and writing insulting remarks on the pages. We see conspiracy behind this occurrence just to harass and pressurize the Christians in Pakistan. It is mysterious that thousands of people gathered in half an hour and began attacking churches and Christians’ houses.

2-     Involved money and revenge: 

Another story we heard during the fact finding that Rocky Masih has given an amount of Rs.550,000 to a local agent to travel abroad, since the time the agent was making lame excuses to manage Rocky’s travel to abroad therefore they had several disputes and harsh attitude to each other. Two days before the incident of Jaranwala there was a dispute again when Rocky asked the agent to return his money. The agent refused to give him money and threatened for severe consequences. Therefore a few people think this dispute a cause of incident of blasphemy.

3-     Appointment of a Christian Assistant Commissioner:

Some locals including Muslim journalists assumed the involvement of former MNA in Jaranwala behind this heinous issue. They claimed that the MNA always cursed  upon Shaukat Masih Sandhu a Christian Assistant Commissioner Jaranwala. He disliked the appointment of Christian man as an Assistant Commissioner and holding a key position and started conspiracy.

Protest demonstration: 

Jaranwala incident triggers nationwide condemnation, not only Christian organizations, Churches but the Muslims recorded demonstration, protest against the said issue of the burning of churches and Christians houses and showed solidarity with affected Christians.

Among all, the Christians’ True Spirit – CTS has recorded statements and demonstration at different platforms and urged the government to take a serious action against the culprits to punish them to set an example of justice and take the necessary steps to control the extremism.

In 76 years of Pakistan the government could not provide protection to the vulnerable groups and failed to make a mechanism to stop religious intolerance in Pakistan.

The impunity system has encouraged the zealot’s to create law and order situation within the country. Islam is a state religion of Pakistan but the Muslim fanatic’s and militants have set an example of religious intolerance.

On August 24, 2023 Christians Muslim advocates of Lahore Bar Association and Punjab Bar Association including the president and vice president recorded a demonstration against Jaranwala incident and submitted recommendations for the protection and security of religious minorities in Pakistan. Katherine Sapna,  Executive Director CTS and Rt. Rev. Bishop Azad Marshal Moderator, Church of Pakistan was asked to share the situation of the burn churches, houses and security of people in Jaranwala.

Legal Action of CTS: 

CTS team came to know about the illegal arrest of 7 people in Jaranwala. The locals informed that soon after a blasphemy case FIR was registered against Saleem Masih and his sons on August 16, 2023 in the local City Police Station Jaranwala, district Faisalabad offense u/s 295 –B & 295 -C. Instead of providing safety to the Christians while Muslim extremists burning the houses the local police raided at the relatives and friends’ to get arrest the allegedly accused of committing blasphemy.

The local police arrested 7 people including men, women and kids (family and friends) the same day and took them in the custody at a secret place for three days until they got arrested the nominated in the blasphemy case FIR. On August 18, 2023 Mr. Nadeem Hussan Advocate High Court field a writ petition/Habeas Corpus in the High Court Lahore and recovered the innocent people from the illegal custody of police where they have been tortured, harassed and investigated.

CTS findings: 

The tragedy in Faisalabad is not a single occurrence, instead becoming a symbol of Pakistan’s growing religious intolerance and violence. Extremist ideology and sectarian conflict have created an environment of hatred in which religious minorities are subjected to persecution. Blasphemy accusations are punishable by imprisonment and, in certain cases, the death penalty. Unfortunately, these blasphemy laws have produced an environment of fear and hostility for Christians.

These laws were introduced in 1980 to protect peace and harmony between religious majority and minority, but these laws are misused often misused to create riots, violence and target minorities. Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan since 97% of the population is Muslim. The controversial blasphemy law, which was modified from Section 295 to Section 295 A-B-C and developed by Islamic military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq, has made life more difficult for Christians in Pakistan.

The incident of blasphemy in Jaranwala is suspicious and full of conspiracy and involved malafide intention of Muslim extremists to harm and weak the religious minorities in Pakistan. This is not the first time when Christians’ are in pain due to the hostile situation in Jaranwala after a fake blasphemy allegation on two brothers but we have bitter experiences in past as well.

CTS team kept visiting the affected of Jaranwala for solidarity and encouragement and had noticed that the affected of Jaranwala have nothing left, everything in the houses has been finished and they are empty hands. They are in need of help in this time of helplessness to support them with household items, food, cloths, bedding, beds and finance. Many of them work as laborer and earn daily wages but the moment not working.

Christians in Pakistan again have a hope and look forward when the promises of the government will come true. Only restoration of the church buildings and renovation of the houses in not justice this time we expecting that the government will take a serious notice against the terrorists and extremists who has repeatedly damaged the peace and hurt religious minorities in Pakistan.

Prayer request: 

Dear partners and friends,

Christians’ True Spirit – CTS request for your regular prayers for the affected people in Jaranwala as they have faced extreme violence and harassment because of their faith. We ask your prayers for the healing of injured souls and restoration of their lives as they strong believers of Jesus Christ. May the Lord Our God be strength and hope of our brothers and sisters in Jaranwala and worldwide.

In solidarity,

Katherine Sapna Executive Director