Over fifty houses belonging to Christians and two churches have been burnt and ransacked by a mob of villagers near Toba Tek Singh and at least six people have been killed. The mob meted out the collective punishment on the ‘accusation’ that three Christians were allegedly seen desecrating pages of the Holy Quran.
The perpetrators committed this vile act in broad daylight as hapless homeowners ran for their lives. Ironically, instead of arresting the culprits, the police â€“ under pressure from the mob – registered a blasphemy case against the three Christians!
However, the irony doesnâ€™t end here. While Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif condemned this incident, he had himself presided over an important meeting of the ulema just four weeks before with a very different message. The meeting put out a joint proclamation stating that â€œ.. whosoever is even slightly guilty of blasphemy against the Prophet â€“ directly or indirectly â€“ is an infidel, an apostate, and liable to be put to deathâ€. So why condemn now Mr. Chief Minister?
Further irony is that the above statement was part of a joint declaration prepared to condemn religious militant extremism! The Punjab government was so proud of bringing these progressive minded ulema together, that it published the declaration in newspapers. (Click here or on image to see larger version).
But the greatest irony of all is that those who were so perturbed by the alleged desecration of pages of Quran, shredded its entire message to pieces by destroying a place of worship.
This earlier report from Reuters gives more details of the incident:
Six Christians, including four women, were burned alive in clashes with majority Muslims in a town in central Pakistan on Saturday, officials said. Tension has been running high between the two communities in Gojra town in central Punjab province over allegations that Christians had desecrated a Koran.
Clashes erupted early on Saturday, with an exchange of fire from the members of the two communities. Television footage showed burning houses and streets strewn with blackened furniture and people firing at each other from their rooftops.
Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for minorities, said a mob “misled by religious extremists,” attacked a Christian neighborhood and torched dozens of houses. “We have received six bodies of people who died of burn injuries. They included four women, one man and one child,” Abdul Hamid, a Health Ministry official in the town told Reuters by telephone.
Rana Sanaullah, provincial minister for law, who is also responsible for security matters of Punjab, condemned the attack and said an inquiry had been ordered. However, he said, a preliminary investigation showed there was no desecration of the Koran. “It was just a rumor which was exploited by anti-state elements to create chaos,” he said. “I request both Muslim and Christian communities to show restraint,” Sanaullah said, adding the government would take strict action against rioters and also police who failed to stop the violence.
Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim nation and religious minorities, including Christians, account for roughly 4 percent of the 170 million population. Muslims and minorities largely live in harmony but there have been periodic attacks on Christian targets in Pakistan since it became a U.S. ally following the September 11 attacks on the United States.
As tensions have escalated, The News reports concern and statements from the Federal government, including the Interior Minister, Prime Minister and the President:
Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik Saturday took notice of violent incidents in Gojra and directed Punjab Inspector General to bring the situation under control. He also directed the Punjab government to improve the law and order situation in the province; he also directed Punjab IG to submit report on the Gojra violence. Urging the people to demonstrate patience, he maintained no one would be allowed to take law in his hand in the country. The interior minister expressed deep grief over the rampage and violence in Gojra, saying action will be taken against anyone involved in the gory incidents in Gojra.
In a separate news item in The News:
Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani Saturday, taking notice of the Gojraâ€™s violent incidents, ordered to initiate inquiry into the Gojra, sources said Saturday. President Asif Ali Zardari ordered to send Punjab Rangers to Gojra so that the situation could be normalized. Rehman Malik said Punjab Rangers will help police in bringing back the situation to normalcy, adding the government will take stringent action against those who are involved in worsening the situation. Zardari asked the interior ministry to cooperate with the government of Punjab for maintaining the law and order in the province.