Experts Identify Flaws in Investigation of Religion-Based Violence: People's Inquiry

Lahore: A People's Inquiry on "Countering Religion-Based Violence," conducted by a panel of experts including Justice (R) Nasira Javed Iqbal, Advocate Hina Jillani, Advocate Jamshed Rehmat Ullah, Bishop Azad Marshal, Peter Jacob, and Advocate Saroop Ijaz, has raised concerns about the investigation into religion-based violence. The inquiry has found discrepancies in the police's handling of the case, ranging from shifting assumptions to a lack of evidence supporting claims of foreign involvement in the Jaranwala incident.

Eyewitnesses and victims have provided testimonies confirming that the mob violence in Jaranwala was premeditated and driven by political motives. The inquiry has noted that the police appeared reluctant to apprehend those responsible for inciting violence through false blasphemy charges. This has allowed extremist groups to exploit blasphemy accusations, victimizing members of the Christian community in Sargodha and Jaranwala.

Furthermore, the inquiry suggests that the police have attempted to downplay the extent of looting, destruction, and arson of churches and homes during the Jaranwala incident. They have also been accused of conducting illegal arbitrary detentions of men, women, and children under the pretext of investigation, seemingly to pressure the Christian community into dropping cases and seeking justice.

During the inquiry, Peter Jacob, Executive Director of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), called for fair and impartial investigations into all blasphemy-related cases. Bishop Azad Marshal emphasized the recurring fabrication of accusations against minorities, leading to the marginalization of religious minorities in Pakistan. Hina Jillani, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, condemned the lawlessness, particularly the arbitrary detentions of children and women in Jaranwala. She urged civil society and national human rights institutions to monitor the situation, ensuring a fair and transparent investigation and trial.

Victims and witnesses who experienced the mob violence on August 16 in Jaranwala pointed out that police failure and indifference had enabled the violence and looting. The illegal detention of Christians, including men, women, and children not named in the First Information Report (FIR), was a troubling issue. While 36 detainees were released, reports indicate that many others remain in police custody.

The inquiry also highlighted the social apartheid created for minorities due to blasphemy accusations in various parts of Punjab. Discrimination and intolerance have led Christian students to abandon their education, as they face mistreatment and prejudice after the Jaranwala incident. Greengrocers and shopkeepers have refused to sell goods to Christians, and Christian workers are denied employment opportunities.

Samuel Pyara, Lala Robin Daniel, Prof. Anjum James Paul, Michelle Chaudhry, Eiga Kenny, Qammar Suleman, and Haroon Ranjha Advocate provided testimonies during the People's Inquiry. Journalists Sher Ali Khalti and Xari Jalil posed questions and offered analysis. The inquiry produced a fact sheet titled "Provided We Learn," documenting incidents of religion-based violence targeting faith minorities under the pretext of blasphemy accusations in Punjab.

Participants in the inquiry resolved to uphold truth and justice standards, engage in litigation and advocacy efforts to promote equality of rights and citizenship and demand safeguards against the misuse of blasphemy laws. They called for an end to religious apartheid and urged the country's leadership to fulfil their claims of protecting minorities.