Pakistan Supreme Court Has Harsh Words for Punjab

Pakistan Supreme Court Has Harsh Words for Punjab

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday termed a progress report submitted by the Punjab government on last summer’s Jaranwala attacks worthy of “being thrown into the dustbin.” The court directed the provincial government to submit a new report within 10 days. 

The court’s remarks on Tuesday came as a three-judge bench heard the case which pertains to the rights of minorities and the Jaranwala incident. 

On Aug. 16, a mob attacked and vandalized multiple churches and homes belonging to the Christian community in Jaranwala, Faisalabad. The incident, which left multiple churches and homes of Christians ransacked and burned, was in response to allegations that two believers had desecrated the Quran. Reports say the Jaranwala police registered terror cases against more than 600 people in connection with the incident. 

Chief Justice Qai Faez Isa said at Tuesday’s hearing that he felt ashamed after seeing the report about the incident. He asked a Punjab law officer about the progress of arrests, and was told that 22 cases had been registered so far and 304 people had been arrested. Charge sheets had been collected in 18 of the 22 First Information Report (FIRs).

“We keep raising hue and cry over ‘Islamophobia’ wherever we go in the world,” Isa said to the officer. “But what are we doing here in Pakistan? Have we ever thought about that? Do we want to follow in the footsteps of India, where minorities are not safe?”

Isa noted that the report lacked relevant information such as the registration of FIRs in regard to offenses, the number of suspects named, the status of the cases, names of relevant courts where cases were pending, and the progress made so far. 

“The manner in which the investigation was conducted and the apparent hesitation shown by the law enforcement agencies in identifying the culprits will only bring disrepute to the police force,” he said, adding that it appeared investigation agencies were not interested in punishing the culprits. “Instead, it seems that the functionaries of the state also become intimidated by the persons who take the law into their own hands, and at times, rather than protecting the life and properties of non-Muslims, advance the agenda of the perpetrators.” 

Isa ordered the Punjab Police to conduct a thorough, new investigation and to ensure prosecution of the accused. He warned that officials would be suspended if they failed to yield results. He also directed the Punjab government to submit a report on the progress of the reconstruction work on church buildings and compensation paid to victims. 

Church and community leaders lauded the chief justice’s order, saying it restores hope to the Christian community. 

“We are glad that the chief justice of Pakistan has taken note of our concerns regarding the investigation of the incident and accountability of the negligent officials,” Church of Pakistan President Bishop Azad Marshall told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.  

The Reverend Khalid Mukhtar, a Catholic priest who is also a petitioner in the Jaranwala cases, agreed that the Supreme Court’s directive to the Punjab government had reignited hope in Christian community.

“We were disappointed by the police’s handling of the investigation, but now we feel that the Punjab government will give due attention to the cases,” Muktar said. 

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.

Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws are often used to target minority groups, but Christians are disproportionately affected, according to World Watch. Roughly a quarter of all blasphemy accusations target Christians, who make up only 1.8% of the overall population. 

Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

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