Court in Pakistan Acquits Over 100 Suspects Accused of 2013 Attack on Christian Neighborhood
Christian Leaders Call Ruling Discriminatory and Biased
01/30/2017 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has acquitted more than 100 suspects accused of participating in the 2013 attack on Joseph Colony, a predominantly Christian neighborhood in Lahore, on Saturday, January 28.
In March 2013, a mob of reportedly 3,000 enraged Muslims attacked Joseph Colony two days after a Christian resident, Sawan Masih, was accused of committing blasphemy. Provoked by local clerics, the mob set fire to much of the Christian neighborhood, destroying more than 150 Christian homes, Christian businesses, and two churches. The violence forced hundreds of Christian families to flee.
During a court hearing last week, Justice Chaudhry Muhammad Azam accepted the arguments of the defense and cited “insufficient evidence” as justification for the acquittal of more than 100 suspects. This is in spite of ample video and photo evidence of the attack.
Following the court’s decision, many Christian leaders expressed their disappointment, calling the ruling “discriminatory and biased.”
“The criminal justice system in Pakistan particularly collapses whenever the issue relates to the state religion or when there is a dispute between Muslims and non-Muslims,” Naeem Shakir, a Christian lawyer, told ICC. “It is a tragedy that none of the following violent attacks against Christians resulted in convictions: Shantinagar in 1997, Sangla Hill in 2005, Gojra and Korian in 2009, and now Joseph Colony in 2013.”
“The judgment shows that religious minorities are not equal citizens before the law in this country,” Tariq Siraj, Chairman of the Muthida Masihi Party, said. “The court has not given any weight to the video clips and print media coverage of the violent attack.”
For Christians affected by the attack, news of the mass acquittal generated feelings of both bewilderment and grief.
“If all are innocent, then who burned the houses?” Wajid Masih, a Christian of Joseph Colony, asked. “[The] government should come up with an answer to this question.”
“We are sad and unsatisfied with the court proceedings,” Zaida Bibi, another Christian from Joseph Colony, said. “The attackers not only set our houses on fire, but also desecrated churches and Bibles. The government must provide adequate protection for the victims.”
ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “Once again, it’s sad to see Pakistan’s Christian community be denied justice by the country’s judicial system. In spite of widely available videos and photos of the attack, the court decided that there was insufficient evidence to convict, leaving hundreds of Christian families with no recourse. Unfortunately, this decision doesn’t only affect the Christians of Joseph Colony; it also signals that there are no consequences for those who attack Pakistan’s already vulnerable religious minorities. As long as Pakistan’s judicial system allows this state of impunity to continue, Christians and their places of worship will remain easy targets for the country’s extremists.”