The real instigators of the attacks against Christian places of worship have not been arrested. Two Christian brothers are in jail accused of blasphemy.
by Massimo Introvigne
It is quite rare that media other than “Bitter Winter” and other specialized outlets carry news about the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan. It happened last week, when on August 16 a mob burned or destroyed some nineteen churches, including the historical place of worship of the Salvation Army, and several private homes of Christians in Jaranwala, Punjab.
The rioters also vandalized a Christian cemetery, burned Bibles and looted homes of Christians who had escaped the area fearing for their lives. Christians protested all over the country and for once the incident was impossible to ignore for both domestic and international media.
The government promised swift and immediate action by the police. But what did in fact happen, one week after the attacks? More than one hundred rioters were detained, the authorities told the media. However, some have already been released, and it is unclear how many will be charged with serious offenses. More importantly, the clerics and political activists of extremist Islamic organizations such as Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan who incited the mob were not arrested. Tehreek-e-Labbaik denies all charges, but the Christians who were there tell a different story.
Somebody, however, has been arrested and charged with a crime punishable with the death penalty: two Christians. The incident started when pages of the Quran with derogatory comments written in red allegedly found in a nearby street were given to a mosque prayer leader. He showed them to the Muslim devotees and delivered an incendiary sermon calling for revenge.
The police claims that the desecrated pages of the Quran carry the names, addresses, and even identity card numbers of two Christian brothers, who have been arrested and charged with blasphemy. Why blasphemers should sign their blasphemy, supply even the numbers of their identity cards, and literally ask to be arrested and charged with a capital offense was not explained.
Theoretically, blasphemy may be punished by the death penalty in Pakistan. Although higher courts routinely convert death sentences to life imprisonment or other long jail penalties, and nobody has been executed so far, under the pressure of Tehreek-e-Labbaik the government has recently announced that the provisions against blasphemy will be enforced more strictly. It is also frequent that those accused of blasphemy are lynched by mobs.