Pakistani Christians in Joseph Colony Remain Scared on 3rd Anniversary of Neighborhood’s Razing
Justice for Christian Victims Remains Doubtful in Pakistan
3/9/2016 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Pakistani Christians living in Joseph Colony, a majority Christian neighborhood in Lahore, fear new instances of persecution on the third anniversary of the neighborhood’s razing.
On March 9, 2013, a mob of approximately 3,000 enraged Muslims attacked Joseph Colony, burning over 170 Christian homes and two churches. The incident started after a local Christian, Sawan Masih, was accused of making derogatory remarks against the Muslim prophet Muhammad three day before the neighborhood was attacked. On March 8, 2013, violence broke out after Friday prayers when approximately 100 Muslims pelted Masih’s house with stones and beat his elderly father. Masih was taken into police custody and later charged with committing blasphemy.
Hundreds of Christians fled the neighborhood later that night, fearing a threatened retribution. The following day, March 9, 2013, thousands of Muslims returned to Joseph Colony and attacked Christian-owned houses, shops, and churches. No Christians were reportedly injured in the attack, but their possessions and properties were either stolen or destroyed by the mob.
Father Philip John, a Chaplin in Joseph Colony, said, “It was a dispute over a snooker game between Sawan Masih and Muhammad Imran, a local Muslim, which turned into a religious clash when Imran accused Masih [of] insulting [the] prophet Muhammad.” In March 2014, Masih was sentenced to death by a court in Lahore for committing blasphemy.
Despite the passage of three years, Christians in Joseph Colony remain traumatized. “[The] majority of Joseph Colony residents are still afraid and unsatisfied with security arrangements,” Pastor Afzal Khan Bhatti told ICC. “Only a few policeman are on the main gate of the locality which is not sufficient. The community is always under mental stress of a similar incident taking place again.”
“Life [has] almost normalized after three years,” Gulshan Bibi, a local Christian told ICC. “However, fear is deeply rooted in the psychology of local residents. [When] a similar incident takes place in any part of the country, we feel insecure and under threat to be attacked by the Muslims.”
Since 2013, no one has been prosecuted for the attack on Joseph Colony despite ample media coverage of the mob violence. “The basic reasons for [the lack of] justice are two,” Naeem Shakir, a Christian High Court lawyer in Pakistan told ICC. “Lack of [the] rule of law and religious bigotry.”
Nadeem Anthony, a council member of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said, “Police registered a case against hundreds of people, however all of the 83 arrested are out on bail.”
ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark, said, “The attack on Joseph Colony is just another typical example of the persecution faced by Christians in Pakistan. Due to an environment of impunity created by the Pakistani government and the country’s notorious blasphemy laws, thousands of Muslims felt justified in attacking and destroying an entire Christian neighborhood to ‘avenge’ one Christian’s ‘blasphemous’ remarks. Rather than protecting Pakistani citizens, as the law should, blasphemy laws provide cover and embolden extremists to commit violent acts which is exactly what happened in Joseph Colony three years ago. This has to change. Pakistan must bring to justice those involved in the attack on Joseph Colony and take further steps to protect the country’s already vulnerable minority communities.”