“We Are Left With Nothing”

Last Saturday thousands of Muslims went on a rampage in the Joseph Colony Christian area near Badami Bah in Lahore, Pakistan. The mob torched more than a hundred houses, leaving several hundred Christians homeless. The pretext for the attack was an alleged argument the previous Wednesday between a Muslim barber and a Christian would-be customer, whom he refused to serve. The Muslim went to the police and filed a blasphemy charge against the Christian, saying that he had insulted the prophet.

Dozens of people were injured, but miraculously no one was killed. This may be due to the fact that police went through the area just before the mob attacked, warning Christians to flee. After they left, their houses were looted of anything valuable and set on fire — which makes one suspect that the whole affair was a set-up, planned well in advance.

The following video shows the reactions of some of the Joseph Colony Christians to what was done to their community. Many thanks to Vlad Tepes for uploading this video:

Below are some articles about the grim events in Lahore. First, an early report from Asia News:

Lahore: More Than 100 Christian Homes Burned Over Blasphemy Charge

The attack followed altercation between a young Christian and a Islamic barber: the Muslim insulted Christianity and then reported the boy for blasphemy. The mob looted, stoned, doused in acid and then burned the Christian settlement. Local imam: “We’ll find the Christian and kill him.”

Lahore (AsiaNews) — This morning, an angry mob set fire to over 100 homes in the Joseph Colony Christian settlement, near Badami Bah (Lahore). Residents were forced to flee and at least 35 people were injured. The attack resulted from an accusation of blasphemy registered against one of the settlement residents, Sawan Masih, who yesterday afternoon had an altercation with a Muslim.

According to initial reports, the 26 year old Christian went to the Islamic barber for a haircut, but the store owner, Imran Shahid, refused to serve him. A heated discussion arose between the two, and the Muslim reportedly used offensive words about Christianity.

Together with other people, Shahid then went to the nearby police station, the group recorded a charge of blasphemy against Masih (art.295C), arguing that the young man was drunk and had insulted the Prophet Muhammad. Shortly after, the police arrested the Christian. The maximum penalty under that law is life imprisonment.

The anger of the Islamic community did not subside however, and this morning a large group of people ransacked Joseph Colony, then set fire to the homes. “We were working like every day – Salamat Masih, a resident of the settlement told AsiaNews – when we started to hear a noise, and suddenly a wall of people fell upon the colony. They threw acid and stoned our houses, then set them on fire. The authorities intervened only when everything was destroyed”. The local imam said Sawan will be killed when found.

Human rights associations, such as Masihi Foundation and Life for All rushed to the scene to help the victims. For Msgr. Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, “it is very sad to see that minorities in Pakistan are not safe and are targeted for their religion. It is vital that we work for national harmony.”

More recently, from the Pakistani edition of Newsweek:

Protesting Joseph Colony Rampage

Christians across Pakistan rallied against torching of over 100 Christian homes in Lahore by more than 3,000 Muslims.

Christians demonstrated in cities around Pakistan on Sunday to protest the torching of more than 100 Christian homes by a Muslim mob following allegations of blasphemy.

More than 3,000 Muslims on Saturday rampaged through Joseph Colony, a Christian area of Lahore, after allegations surfaced that a Christian had made derogatory remarks about Islam’s Prophet three days earlier.

Around 150 people have been arrested, police said, and though no one was killed the incident highlights the religious tensions affecting Pakistan as it prepares for a general election expected in May, following a spate of deadly attacks on the minority Shia Muslim community.

Police and locals said a drunken row between two friends was the trigger for the allegations of blasphemy, a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim and even unproven claims can spark public violence.

During Sunday’s protest in Lahore, Christians demanded greater protection and clashed with police, who used batons and tear gas to disperse them after they blocked a busy road, senior police officer Abdul Ghaffar Qaisarani said. There were also minor clashes between police and protesters in Karachi and further demonstrations in Islamabad, Multan and Quetta.

The Punjab government initially promised Rs. 200,000 compensation to each family affected by the violence, but Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif raised this to Rs. 500,000 after visiting the scene on Sunday. “The chief minister declared that the repair work of all the houses would be completed in 72 hours,” a senior Punjab government official said.

A group of 30 senior Muslim clerics in Lahore issued a fatwa (religious ruling) on Sunday condemning the attack on the Christian community as criminal and un-Islamic, Fazal Karim, the chairman of the Sunni Ittehad Council said.

The senior police official for the area of the attack, Multan Khan, said the trouble began with a row between Sawan Masih, a Christian sanitary worker, and his Muslim friend Shahid Imran. “They used to sit together and drink together almost every evening. They were drunk on Wednesday when they had some arguments,” Khan told reporters on Saturday.

It was during the argument that Masih allegedly made the blasphemous remarks, Khan said, prompting Imran to report the matter to police.

Officers arrested the Christian on Friday, but this did not stop a mob assembling to attack Joseph Colony on Saturday morning. Local resident Altaf Masih, also a sanitary worker, said “while they were drunk they had an argument over discussion on religious issues.”

Spokeswoman for Punjab police Nabila Ghazanfar said on Sunday that four senior officers including Khan had been removed from their posts for “negligence” and “failure to control” the mob.

Rights campaigners say Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, which can carry the death penalty, are often used to settle personal disputes and should be reformed. The legislation came under international scrutiny last year after 14-year-old Christian girl Rimsha Masih was held for three weeks in a high security prison for allegedly burning pages from the Quran. The case against her was eventually thrown out.

The Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing on the attack for Monday and summoned the chief of police in Punjab and the provincial prosecutor to appear.

Tahir Ashrafi, president of Pakistani Ulema Council, condemned the attack saying Islam did not permit such violence.

On Saturday, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered an inquiry into the attacks.

In a related incident on the same day — this one in Islamabad — vandals defaced a memorial to a Christian government minister who was assassinated two years ago after defending a Christian woman named Asia Bibi against blasphemy charges.

From Asia News:

Shahbaz Bhatti Memorial Vandalised in Pakistan

The picture of the slain minister was paint sprayed and a poster ripped off. The attack occurred on the same day that scores of Christian homes were set on fire in Lahore. The Minority Affairs minister was killed on 2011 for his opposition to the blasphemy law.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — The memorial dedicated to Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Catholic minister of Minority Affairs murdered in 2011, was vandalised in broad daylight last Saturday.

The pictured was paint sprayed and a poster honouring him was ripped off. Flowers and candles that framed the monument have disappeared.

The incident occurred at the same time as a mob set fire to 178 homes in a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore. The two are connected.

The Bhatti Memorial is located in Lahore’s Sector I/8, one of the areas with the most traffic. And yet, no one tried to stop the perpetrators, who remain at large.

Shahbaz Bhatti was killed on 2 March 2011 in an ambush by masked men. According to the investigation, the Catholic minister was killed for his opposition to the blasphemy law.

He was also well known for defending Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five sentenced to death on the basis of the ‘black law’.

Hat tips for the Asia News articles: C. Cantoni.