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Pakistan must curb wave of violence against minorities: Statement by Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights

Friday 25 September 2009, by siawi

From: Joint Action Committee for Peoples Rights
- Date: Wed, Sep 16, 2009 at 6:18 PM
- Subject: JAC Press Statement

JAC wants govt to curb fresh wave of violence against religious minorities

Lahore, September 16:

Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights (JAC) expresses its grave concern over increasing incidents of violence against religious minorities, especially Christians, in recent months and apparent collusion of some officials of the police and prisons with fanatics and extremists in perpetrating crimes against members of religious minorities. The government’s record of protecting religious minorities either in their homes as in Gojra last month or in jails as in Sialkot this week is disappointing to say the least.

JAC believes that the recent death in Silakot District Jail who was charged with defiling of the Quran, raises strong suspicion of the involvement of the jail officials in his suspected murder. Witnesses say that they saw marks of torture on the body of 20-year old Robert Fanish which defies the claims of the jail officials that he committed suicide hours after his landing in jail at night. Fanish’s father has lodged a formal complaint with the police to register a case of murder against the jail officials including the superintendent but an FIR is yet to be registered.

The killing of Robert Fanish Masih in Sialkot Jail is not a solitary incident of its kind. Earlier, too, similar incidents have taken place where the people facing blasphemy charges died in jails and the authorities declared their deaths as suicides. Some years back, Mohammad Yousuf, an accused facing a trial for false prophet-hood, was found dead in Kot Lakhpat Jail, Lahore.

In all these cases of alleged suicides in judicial custody, the circumstantial evidence suggests they were murdered by some fanatics in collusion with jail officials. Had the government carried out fair, transparent and thorough investigations into earlier cases of these deaths in judicial custody, it would have worked as deterrent for future. But it did not happen. The result is before us in the form of another alleged suicide of an accused in a jail.

Closing of the doors of due process and free trial on the accused belonging to religious minorities defies the law of the land and all conventions of dispensation of justice the world over. This would further frustrate and alienate these people from the state and society.

JAC has repeatedly expressed concern at attacks on non-Muslims over allegations of blasphemy and desecration of religious scriptures. The attacks on Christians seem to be symptomatic of a well-organised campaign launched by extremist elements against Christian community all over central Punjab since early this year. In March 2009, a Christian woman lost her life in Gujranwala after a local church was attacked. On June 30, 2009, a mob attacked Christian houses in the village of Bahmaniwala in Kasur district, destroying more than 50 houses, damaging furniture and household goods and stealing gold jewellery and cash from the premises. On July 30, 2009, seven people were killed in Gojra carnage after an alleged incident of defiling of the Quran in a nearby village.
In this situation, JAC recommends the following:

  • The government must hold a transparent inquiry to determine the reasons for the alleged suicide of Fanish Robert in Sialkot Jail and if it is found to be a murder, the criminals must be brought to justice.
  • The government must also hold inquiry into Gojra police’s failure to perform their duty to protect the lives and property of Christian Colony residents on August 1.
  • Perpetrators and executors of Gojra attack and burning of a church in Sambrial must be identified and brought to justice. Effective prosecution would serve as a deterrent to future attacks, while a lack thereof would encourage impunity.
  • The government action against banned militant and religious organisations must go beyond issuing a notification proscribing them. Individuals associated with such organisations must be dealt with in accordance with law and any assets used for such outfits’ operations must be seized.
  • With regard to attacks such as those in Gojra, the use of mosque loudspeakers to make provocative announcements and incitement to violence is barred by law. The government must make sure that the law is implemented and mosque loudspeakers are not used for hate speech or to incite citizens to violence.
  • The government must issue unambiguous instructions to police and other local administration officials to ensure protection where such allegations have been made and ensure that rule of law is not violated.
  • The government must immediately repeal all laws being abused to victimise and exploit citizens, including religious minorities, in the name of religion, particularly on allegations of blasphemy or defiling of religious scriptures.
  • The government must act to prevent any attack based on a person’s faith, instead of belatedly reacting through award of monetary compensation.
  • The government must take prompt measures to stem growing violent extremism and intolerance towards religious minorities and ensure that there is no recurrence of vigilante actions like Gojra and Sambrial.

JAC emphasises that another attack targeting the minorities is a question of when, not if, unless the government acknowledges in a meaningful manner the threat extremism and intolerance pose to society, understand the dynamics fuelling the phenomenon and take urgent and effective remedial measures.

The allegations of blasphemy or defiling of religious scriptures, irrespective of their veracity, do not warrant vigilante attacks. Nor do they absolve the government of its primary duty to protect all citizens. Effective prosecution would serve as a deterrent to future attacks, while a lack thereof would encourage impunity.

JAC demands of the government to take proactive measures to prevent such violence and provide its action against banned organisation must go beyond issuing a notification proscribing them and individuals associated with such organisations must be dealt with in accordance with law.