Pakistani Christians Still Awaiting Justice for Gojra Nine Years Later

By ICC’s Pakistan Correspondent

08/06/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Nine years ago, on August 1, 2009, an enraged Muslim mob attacked the Christian community of Gojra, a town in Toba Tek Singh, in one of the deadliest attacks on Christians in Pakistan’s history. More than 100 Christian homes were looted and set on fire following the alleged desecration of a Quran by a Christian on July 25, 2009. During the riot, eight Christians were also burned alive.

After forming a tribunal to investigate the incident, including its causes and results, Shahbaz Shareef, the Chief Minister of Punjab at the time, assured that the “findings of judicial inquiry into Gojra incident would be implemented in letter and spirit.

Despite this assurance, and the passage of nine years, little has been done to correct the issues that led to the deadly Gojra violence. In fact, similar incidents, precipitated by blasphemy accusations against Christians, have taken place since the Gojra incident and not a single conviction has been secured among those who perpetrated the violence in Gojra in 2009.

The Inquiry Report of Justice Iqbal Hamid’s judicial tribunal warned the Punjab government, saying, “The Gojra tragedy must be taken seriously and should be done without further loss of time to avoid a replay of the gruesome episode.

The tribunal recorded statements from 580 people, including hundreds of Christians, senior government officials, police officers, and voluntary witnesses. The Gojra report claimed that police were ultimately responsible for the Gojra massacre, stating that the commanding officer should have deployed personnel to stop the violence.

The report detailed the reasons why the police did not prevent the mobs from attacking Christians. The report claimed that the lack of a clear assessment of the incident, misinterpretation of the details of the attacks, poor security, lack of responsibility from the administration, the non-enforcement of section 144, section 107, and section 151 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), and failure to appeal to the Punjab Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) of 1960 all contributed the police failure to protect the Christian community of Gojra.

Remembering the incident, Peter Jacob, Executive Director of the Center for Social Justice, said, “The month of August brings back the memory of the extremely sad incident in Gojra. It is even more disheartening to think that justice is yet to be delivered for this tragic incident.

“The month of August brings back the memory of the extremely sad incident in Gojra. It is even more disheartening to think that justice is yet to be delivered for this tragic incident.”

Almas Hameed, who lost seven family members in the Gojra riot, reportedly received death threats and was forced to flee the country for pursuing a case against the culprits. Hameed accused Abdul Qadeer Awan, then President of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) in Toba Tek Singh, in a First Information Report (FIR) as the prime suspect, along with the local leadership of Spah-e-Sahabah Pakistan, an Islamic organization. However, all of those accused by Hameed were set free because the complainant had fled Pakistan.

Reflecting on the passage of time, the lack of government action following Gojra, and the vulnerability of Christians in Pakistan, Jacob said, “I think that the stakeholders need to pay attention to the issue of the protection of religious minorities with a holistic approach. The government must look into the social and economic as well as the physical threats to religious minorities.

The recommendations of the judicial inquiry laid an emphasis on these aspects,” Jacob continued. “The weakening of civil society and the communities subjected [to] such hostilities, has increased the vulnerability of religious minorities. Therefore, these communities must be empowered by social action.

An empowered implementation committee should be set up at the federal level to look into the implementation of the recommendations of the judicial inquiry,” Jacob concluded.

While the Gojra riot remains one of the worst attacks precipitated by a blasphemy accusation in Pakistan’s history, it has not been the last or the worst experienced by Christians. In March 2013, the Christian neighborhood of Joseph Colony was burned to the ground by a similar mob after a Christian was accused of defaming the prophet Muhammad. In November 2015, a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan was burned alive in a brick kiln by a mob after being accused of desecrating a Quran.

Pakistan’s government must take concrete action to correct the problem of anti-Christian communal violence. Steps must be taken to provide Christians and other religious minorities with protection from mob violence. Until then, it is likely that Pakistan’s Christian minority will experience more instances of communal violence.

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