Blasphemy Allegations Spark Violent Protests and Church Attacks in Jaranwala, Pakistan
Jaranwala, Pakistan – August 16, 2023: Faisalabad, Aug 16, 2023: Jaranwala is in chaos as accusations of blasphemy against Christian brothers, Raja Amir Saleem and Rocky Saleem, ignited violent protests. These protests escalated into assaults on three local churches and numerous Christian homes.
The incident focusses around two Christian brothers, Raja Amir Saleem and Rocky Saleem, hailing from the Cinema Basti area. They have been charged under sections 295 B and C for purportedly desecrating the holy Quran and penning derogatory remarks about the revered Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Following the circulation of this news, outrage rippled through the community, resulting in an eruption of aggressive protests. The repercussions were swift and severe, as mobs unleashed attacks on three local churches and numerous Christian residences in an apparent bid to express their indignation.
The situation escalated as news of the alleged blasphemy spread further. Mansoor Sadiq, a police inspector stationed at Jandanwala city Police station, found himself at the epicentre of the escalating turmoil at Cinema Chowk, Jaranwala. He encountered Muhammad Afzal, Noor Hussain, and Muhammad Tauheed, who accused the Saleem brothers of the desecration and presented a letter containing the alleged blasphemous comments.
The news inflamed emotions within the local Muslim community, leading to mass protests and mobs targeting both churches and Christian homes. Consequently, many Christians felt compelled to flee their homes or seek refuge to ensure their safety.
To show solidarity, local merchants closed their businesses and protesters strategically blocked key intersections, including the prominent Cinema Chowk. In response to the severity of the situation, law enforcement agencies were swift to respond. Led by SP Bilal Silhari of Jaranwala Town, a substantial police force was dispatched to the scene.
Efforts were made to diffuse the mounting tensions, with SP Silhari and Mufti Muhammad Younis Rizvi addressing the agitated crowd. They appealed for peace and reassured swift action against the accused. However, certain factions remained steadfast in their demand for severe punitive measures.
The situation worsened as local mosques broadcasted announcements condemning Christians, further exacerbating the already volatile atmosphere. An official complaint has been lodged under sections 295B and C in relation to the alleged blasphemy incident.
Disturbing visuals began circulating on social media, unveiling the extent of the destruction caused by the protests. Iconic churches, St. John and St. Peter fell victim to vandalism and were set ablaze. Nearby Christian homes also bore the brunt of the mob’s actions, resulting in substantial damage.
Punjab’s Inspector General of Police, Usman Anwar, confirmed, ongoing negotiations with the protesters. He also reported that a mob set fire to the office of a Christian assistant commissioner, who was fortunately evacuated unharmed.
As events continue to unfold, fresh reports detail additional church burnings, including the Salvation Army Church, United Presbyterian Church, Allied Foundation Church, and Shehroon wala Church in the Isa Nagri area. The disturbing accounts of ransacked Christian homes and escalating violent confrontations are also emerging from various regions. The urgent need for immediate intervention and unwavering support for the affected community remains paramount.
Nasir Saeed, the Director of the CLAAS – UK, has strongly condemned this tragic incident, stating that it is an unfortunate situation where, despite the presence of law enforcement agencies, individuals are taking matters into their own hands while the government remains silent.
Blasphemy cases against Christians are becoming a recurring issue, yet the government has failed to take effective measures to halt its continuous misuse. Those responsible for inciting violence against Christians and exploiting these cases often go unpunished. This apparent lack of action by the government might be seen as implicit approval, emboldening extremists to desecrate holy places of worship, vandalize the Christian faith, and force Christian communities to abandon their homes.
Saeed further emphasized that the treatment of minorities in Pakistan is deteriorating. Christians, in particular, live in a constant state of fear for their lives, leading many to believe that they have no future in Pakistan and prompting them to consider fleeing the country.
Pakistan, as a signatory to numerous human rights conventions, is obligated to align its laws with these international treaties. As Pakistan’s GSP+ status is up for renewal this year, the European Union has already addressed concerns regarding the misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan by passing resolutions on the matter.
Saeed emphasized that this presents an opportunity for Pakistan to urgently amend this law and ensure that those responsible for the attacks on Christians and their churches in Jaranwala are brought to justice. He firmly believes that Christians should not settle for anything less than true justice in this situation.