Caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi on Friday announced the government will fully restore by next week all churches ransacked by rioters earlier this week, as police secured the physical remand of 128 suspects for further investigation into the incident.
“Assessments are being made to gauge the extent of damage to destroyed homes, and financial assistance will be provided to affected families accordingly,” he told a delegation of Christian leaders at the Chief Minister’s Office in Lahore, adding that the government aimed to complete repair work by Tuesday. He also reassured the delegation that arrests were ongoing and vowed that everyone involved in the mob violence would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
“We have video footages and other evidence to apprehend and bring the culprits of the tragedy to justice,” he maintained to calls from the delegation for swift action against the culprits to prevent the reoccurrence of such incidents in future. According to a statement from the Punjab government, the delegation consisted of Senator Kamran Michael, Bishop Azad Marshall, former MPA Shakeel Marcus Khokhar, Shahzad Gull, Pastor Jameel Nasir, Colonel McDonald Chandy, Pastor Anwar Fazal, Pastor Waseemullah Khokhar, and Bishop Sebastian Shah.
Also on Friday, the Punjab Revenue Department forwarded its survey of the damages incurred during Wednesday’s rioting to the Faisalabad Deputy Commissioner, stating that 19 churches and 86 houses had been set on fire by the mob. According to local media, efforts are ongoing to restore normalcy to the area, with government officials reviewing the restoration of gas and electricity to the burnt houses, and providing a “relief camp” for affected families in a local school while repairs of their homes are pending.
Meanwhile, an Additional District and Sessions Judge approved a two-day physical remand for 128 suspects over their alleged role in the mob violence. Following the riots, police had registered a First Information Report against 1,470 people, including two “prime suspects” accused of inciting violence through announcements via mosque loudspeakers. Of these, said caretaker Punjab Information Minister Aamir Mir, 145 had already been arrested. The two prime suspects have been placed in the custody of the Counter-Terrorism Department, he added.
Plea to apex court
Separately, Voice of Christians International filed an application in the Supreme Court, seeking action against the Jaranwala incident to ensure justice. This followed a similar demand from local clerics, who have maintained that the mob violence was against the teachings of Islam and required strict action against all perpetrators to ensure such incidents do not reoccur. In a press conference from Lahore, Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Chairman Maulana Abul Khabir Azad said it was “intolerable” for anyone to take the law into their own hands when police had already registered a case against the two men accused of desecrating the holy Quran.
He also hinted that the violence was not homegrown, maintaining the “enemy” was plotting to make Pakistanis fight amongst themselves.
This was backed by Punjab Inspector General of Police Usman Anwar, who told various media outlets that early investigations had suggested a “pre-planned” conspiracy to provoke unrest. Referring to last month’s gang-rape of Christian women in India’s Manipur, he alleged that the Jaranwala incident had “diverted attention” from that. However, he clarified, it was too soon to point any fingers until the ongoing investigation had been completed.
Similar claims were voiced by information minister Mir, who told Geo News on Friday night that an initial probe had suggested Jaranwala was the result of a “conspiracy” to provoke religious sentiments and triggered a riot. Vowing that the results of the ongoing investigation would be made public, he said the prevailing view was that the incident had either been provoked by foreign interference or local religious elements.
“When a foreign force plans an activity, they employ their agents in the country to incite unrest. Then, sometimes, when individuals of different faiths, such as Christians and Muslims, are engaged in a dispute, a situation is fabricated to exploit religious sentiments for personal gain,” he said, noting that the incident had been provoked by the “discovery” of pages of the holy Quran with inappropriate words written on them.
“Interestingly, the names of a Christian man and his two sons were written on the pages in red ink, along with their telephone numbers and addresses, and their photos were also attached,” he said, questioning how anyone who committed blasphemy would leave such identifiers attached to such an offense.