August 16, 2023
By Ahmed Saeed
Turmoil engulfed Jaranwala tehsil of Faisalabad district on the morning of August 16 as a mob attacked and vandalised a Christian locality.
The ensuing violence left a trail of destruction, including the ransacking of multiple houses and at least four churches. The attacks were sparked by accusations of blasphemy allegedly committed by a 24-year-old Christian man.
The violence started in a Christian neighbourhood near Nishat Cinema, which housed over 150 Christian families, before spreading to the entire city.
“Hundreds of Christians including women and children had to flee their homes to save their lives from a enraged mob armed with sticks and weapons,” an area resident told Voicepk.net on the condition of anonymity.
Announcements were made from nearby mosques, inciting Muslim residents come out of their homes and seek revenge for the alleged blasphemy.
“These mosque announcements were the real catalyst. The mobs swelled in numbers on those calls,”
another local Christian man told Voicepk.net.
The Christian community denies these allegations contending that the accused youth had been embroiled in unrelated personal conflicts with a few Muslim men in the vicinity.
The situation rapidly spiralled into chaos as accusations of blasphemy gained traction and the mob turned dangerously hostile, with attacks launched against public and office buildings, including the Assistant Commissioner’s office. Rioters even managed to block the Lahore-Multan motorway, disrupting traffic.
In response to the escalating unrest, the Punjab government transferred AC Jaranwala Shaukat Masih, a Christian, leaving the city in an administrative lurch amid the ongoing law and order crisis.
As emotions flared, senior police officials intervened, attempting to placate the mob with assurances that an FIR had already been lodged under blasphemy charges against the accused man. However, the situation escalated further when the mob demanded capital punishment, to which the police reasoned that only the courts are authorised to hand down punishment, provoking chants of “We will kill him” from the enraged crowd.
Community leaders are calling for calm and the restoration of normalcy, underlining the importance of meticulous and impartial investigations.
Bishop Azad Marshall, President Bishop of the Church of Pakistan, conveyed deep distress over the incident.
“We cry out for justice and action from law enforcement and those who dispense justice and the safety of all citizens to intervene immediately and assure us that our lives are valuable in our homeland,”
The incident once again brings to the forefront the contentious issue of mob violence following accusations of blasphemy. In many cases, the accused individuals were found to be mentally challenged or falsely implicated.
According to a member of the medical board at the Punjab Institute of Mental Health (PIMH) in a statement to Amnesty International, it was found that a majority of [blasphemy accused] referred to us are mentally ill. Many suffer from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
This incident rekindles memories of past blasphemy-related violence, such as the February 2022 Khanewal incident in which a mob killed a 38-year-old man who had been a diagnosed schizophrenic.
In 2009, Gojra City witnessed deadly violence in due to alleged blasphemy accusations. The violence claimed seven lives, including four women and a child, who were burned alive by the mob.