Sargodha, June 18, 2024 – In a controversial decision, the Special Anti-Terrorism Court of Sargodha granted bail to 52 suspects, including three individuals named in the First Information Report (FIR), in connection with the lynching of 74-year-old Nazir Masih Gill. This development has sparked widespread outrage among human rights activists and the Christian community, both within Pakistan and internationally.

On May 25, 2024, a violent mob attacked the residence of Nazir Masih and his son Sultan Masih in the Mujahid Colony area of Sargodha, Punjab Province. The attack followed allegations that the Masihs had burned pages of the Holy Quran, a charge amplified by announcements from a local mosque. The mob, around 2,000 people, demanded the execution of the accused. Despite police intervention, Nazir Masih was severely beaten and succumbed to his injuries on June 3, 2024, in a military hospital in Rawalpindi.

The FIR No. 426/24, registered on May 25, 2024, at the Urban Area Police Station in Sargodha, listed charges against 350-450 unknown persons, with 28 individuals being arrested at the scene. Additional names were added later, bringing the total number of suspects to over 450. The police have invoked sections 149, 248, 440, 436, 353, 186, and 324 of the Pakistan Penal Code in the FIR, addressing charges ranging from unlawful assembly to attempted murder.

On June 13, 2024, Special Judge Muhammad Abbas granted bail to 52 suspects, including three named in the FIR. Tahir Naveed Choudhry, a former Member of the Provincial Assembly (MPA) and advocate, commented on the decision, stating that while the judge has the discretion to grant bail, it does not signify the end of the case. He emphasized that the investigation is ongoing and the police are actively searching for other suspects.

In his statement to the Pakistan Christian News (PCN), Choudhry expressed a nuanced view of the situation. “It’s in the judge’s hands to decide on the bail, but this does not mean that the case is finished for those individuals. The police did their job by presenting the culprits in court. There are around 450 persons involved in the Sargodha riots and the murder of Nazir Masih. The main suspects are still in jail, and the police continue to search for other involved culprits.” Choudhry also commended the police for their efforts during the incident on May 25. “The police played a crucial role, and some officers were injured due to heavy stoning while trying to protect Masih and his family. They successfully evacuated Masih’s family members, preventing further tragedy.”

A fact-finding mission by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), conducted in late May 2024, revealed that the attack was likely fueled by a personal dispute rather than purely religious motivations. The mission highlighted the involvement of Ayub Gondal and connections to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), an extremist group known for inciting violence against religious minorities. The HRCP’s report noted, “It was highly likely that this was a targeted attack against Nazir and Sultan Masih’s family, emanating from a personal dispute that was given a religious color to exact maximum leverage.” The report also pointed out the viral social media videos and the role of local mosque announcements in inciting the mob.

The decision to grant bail has ignited protests across Pakistan and in the international community. On June 15, 2024, Pakistani Christians in the European Union held a demonstration outside the EU Parliament, demanding justice for Nazir Masih and calling for an end to the misuse of blasphemy laws and vigilante violence. These protests echo a broader sentiment of frustration and fear within the Christian community in Pakistan, who have long been vulnerable to accusations of blasphemy and subsequent violence. The misuse of blasphemy laws remains a contentious issue, often leading to mob violence and extrajudicial killings, disproportionately affecting religious minorities.

The granting of bail to the suspects in Nazir Masih’s case is seen by many as a step back in the fight for justice. Advocates for human rights and representatives of the Christian community continue to call for rigorous judicial proceedings and greater protections for minorities in Pakistan. As the legal process unfolds, the eyes of both national and international observers remain fixed on Sargodha, seeking a resolution that upholds justice and human rights.

The Christian community, along with human rights organizations, insists that the Pakistani government must take stronger actions to prevent such incidents and ensure that those responsible for mob violence and misuse of blasphemy laws are held accountable. The ongoing protests and international attention highlight the urgent need for reform and justice in cases involving religious minorities.