Rahmat Masih works as a helper in a textile mill located in Faisalabad. After completing his night shift on the morning of August 16, he returned home. Just as he was about to lie down to sleep, he was awakened by the commotion outside on the street. Suddenly, someone knocked loudly on his door and asked him to come out immediately by calling his name.
Recalling the incident, Rahmat shares that he recognised the voice of his neighbour. Upon opening the door, he was met with the sight of a crowd gathered in the street. Many of them had locked their own houses and seemed to be preparing to leave for somewhere.
Rahmat’s house is in Isa Nagri, a little distance from Jaranwala’s Cinema Chowk. His family has called this place home for the past three decades.
The neighbour informed them that the mosque had made an announcement accusing a Christian of committing blasphemy. As a result, people were being urged to gather at Cinema Chowk for a protest.
Given the seriousness of the situation, the Christian community decided to leave the area immediately.
“We had no choice but to ensure our safety. We tried calling the police on the 15 emergency number and the local Thana City Jardanwala’s landline multiple times, but no one answered,” Rahmat explains.
In a hurry, Rehmat gathered the essential belongings. He took his wife and five children and went out from the back of his house. They then hailed a motorcycle rickshaw and reached a relative’s place in a nearby village.
“Our churches and homes have been set on fire. We’re compelled to hide for our safety. If the police had arrived at the mosques early in the morning following the announcements, the mob might have been prevented from starting fires.”
As per the 2017 census, the Christian community’s population in urban Jaranwala was around 4,558. Most reside in Isa Nagri, Christian Town, Nusrat Colony, and nearby areas.
Ashraf Masih, a resident of Christian Colony, says that he was in Faisalabad when he came to know about the conditions in Jaranwala.
“I rushed back to Jaranwala and made two trips on a motorcycle to move my wife and three children to a friend’s shelter outside the city.”
Mohammad Irshad, a shopkeeper in Isa Nagri, says that early on August 16, some papers were found in one of the streets in this area. These papers reportedly contained blasphemous content and pictures of two persons with their names, phone numbers and ID card numbers. It was later discovered that these two individuals were brothers.
Muhammad Irshad claims that he saw the paper with the pictures and writing. He says that when people informed the police about it, they were told to come to the police station and make a formal report.
“In response, the people announced on the mosque’s loudspeakers and gathered the area’s people.”
According to Irshad, this crowd turned towards the Christian population. “However, some people attempted to prevent vandalism and arson in houses and churches.
“They entered the church forcefully. They pulled down crosses from the roofs, vandalised them, sprinkled gasoline, and set them on fire,” says Irshad.
Mohammad Afzal, a resident of Chamra Mandi, corroborates that the incident was reported to the police. “The alleged blasphemous content was handed over to Imam Qari Yunus of the local mosque.
“A police officer arrived and mentioned that the accused had fled. Those who wished to pursue the case were told to come to the police station and submit an application. Afterwards, an announcement was made from Qari Younis mosque, and similar announcements followed from other nearby mosques.”
Local journalist Hamad Shafaat has been reporting the Jardanwala tragedy throughout the day. He notes that the burning began around 8:30 in the morning, and no law enforcement personnel were seen in the area until noon.
The distance between City Police Station and Cinema Chowk is just one kilometre.
Hamad mentions that after midday, about twenty-five policemen led by SHO Mansoor Sadiq arrived at the scene. However, they didn’t seem to make an effort to halt the unrest.
He explains that four or five elite force vehicles arrived after noon, but the police took no action. Calls to stop the vandalism were primarily made by local scholars, and there was no sign of the Antamia Tehsil authorities at that time.
Hamad notes that the office of Assistant Commissioner Jaranwala, Shaukat Masih Sindhu, was also targeted during this period. According to an official report, the Assistant Commissioner’s house was also set on fire.
He mentions that the vandals levelled several allegations against the Assistant Commissioner, including claims of biased support for his own community. However, these allegations haven’t been confirmed by impartial sources.
“Slogans were chanted against the Assistant Commissioner during the protest. Demonstrators were criticising him and demanding his suspension. In the afternoon, the Assistant Commissioner went to Lahore, and by evening, orders for his transfer were issued. He was instructed to report to the S&GDA.”
According to Hamad, as media coverage intensified, additional anti-riot and police personnel were dispatched from Faisalabad later in the day. According to police officials, their number amounted to three and a half thousand.
He mentions that SP Bilal Silhari had arrived in Jaranwala by the afternoon. After the anti-riot forces arrived, efforts were made to disperse the rioters. However, in response to the use of tear gas and baton charges, the rioters began throwing stones, and this continued until evening.
Regarding the delay in quelling the riots, SP Silhari explains that the police refrained from using force against the protestors to prevent casualties. This is why the perception has arisen that the police response was slow.
However, Atif Jameel, a member of the District Human Rights Committee, disagrees with this justification by the police. He views the Jaranwala tragedy as a consequence of the administration’s lack of seriousness.
He mentions that announcements had been made early morning, and the Christian community was leaving their houses, but there was no sign of the administration. If the police had taken action at that time, this tragedy might have been prevented.
Deputy Commissioner Ali Annan Qamar and City Police Officer Faisalabad Usman Akram Gondal arrived in Jaranwala in the evening. Later, two companies of Rangers also arrived. However, the events had already taken place by then.
The next day, a holiday was declared in Tehsil Jaranwala, and Section 144 was imposed for seven days in District Faisalabad.
As per police officials, a case under sections 295B and 295C was registered against the accused, Raja Amir Salim and Rocky Masih, based on the complaint of the SHO at Jardanwala police station at 7am on Wednesday.
Cases have been filed against 34 individuals who are named, along with 600 others who are unidentified and believed to be involved in the riots. Among those named are the leaders of two religious parties, Muhammad Yunus and Asifullah Bukhari.
According to the spokesperson of the CPO (City Police Officer), 128 individuals have been arrested in Jaranwala after registering five cases under anti-terrorism, arson, and insulting religious places of worship laws.
Atif Jameel mentions that a similar incident occurred in Faisalabad City in 2010. In that case, charges were brought against two brothers, Rashid Emmanuel and Sajid Emmanuel, who were residents of Warispura. Both of them were killed during a hearing at the district court.
Director of Peace and Justice, Father Khalid Rasheed, informs Lok Sujag that the count of burnt churches in Jaranwala exceeds 13.
“Our team visited the area today, but as per the latest updates, they have not yet received permission from the police and administration to access the Christian communities.”
In August 2009, a similar riot in Gojra resulted in losing at least six Christian lives.
The cross on their little shoulders: Kidnapping and forced marriages of Christian girls in Pakistan
In April 2021, a case was filed against two Christian nurses working at the District Headquarters Hospital Faisalabad for blasphemy.
According to the Center for Research and Security Studies report, there were 11 registered blasphemy cases across the country from 1947 to 1987. Out of these cases, three accused individuals were extrajudicially killed.
The punishment for blasphemy was established under Articles 295B and 295C of the Constitution. From 1987 to 2021, there has been a staggering 1,300 per cent increase in the number of cases registered under this law.
According to the provided report, in 74 years, 1,415 blasphemy cases have been filed across the country, and 89 individuals accused have been subjected to extrajudicial killings.
According to this data, the highest number of cases, precisely 1,098, were registered in the province of Punjab. Out of these cases, 70 individuals were extrajudicially killed due to these accusations.
Published on 19 Aug 2023