For immediate release: 1 August 2013
The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) is calling for justice four years to the day since a horrific attack on the Christian town of Gojra in Pakistan.
It was on 1 August 2009 that a Muslim mob went on the rampage in the town, burning eight people to death, including children, and torching dozens of homes.
The attack was triggered by reports that local Christians had desecrated the Koran, a crime punishable by life imprisonment under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Some eye witnesses claimed that the police stood by and ignored pleas for help from the Christians as the attack unfolded.
In the immediate aftermath, there were promises that the perpetrators would be caught and punished.
Yet no one has ever been brought to justice for the crime and Christians are wondering if anyone ever will.
A preliminary investigation soon after the attack concluded that the Koran had not been desecrated as alleged.
Police also arrested dozens of suspects, yet no one was ever brought to trial or imprisoned. There were reports that witnesses were intimidated and that police drew up a charge sheet attempting to re-frame the attack as an instance of communal violence between Christians and Muslims, rather than an attack by Muslims on Christians.
The Gojra judicial tribunal was set up to investigate the attack and recorded the statements of some 580 people. However, the Punjab government has so far refused to publish the report into its findings.
It is believed the report proposes amendments to the blasphemy laws and pins the blame largely on the failure of the police to respond adequately to the attack.
CLAAS is deeply distressed that after four years, so little has been done to bring the perpetrators of one of the worst attacks on Pakistani Christians to justice.
Nasir Saeed, Director of CLAAS UK, said: “The inaction and bewildering lack of urgency in holding the culprits of the Gojra violence to account has set a dreadful and terrifying precedent – that those who attack and murder Christians in Pakistan are likely to get away with it. Persecution of Christians will continue so long as there is no deterrent to stop radical Muslims doing what they like and taking the law into their own hands. It is imperative that the authorities do whatever it takes to see the perpetrators caught, tried and punished. Otherwise we can expect more innocent blood to be shed.”
The recent arrest of a Christian couple in Gojra for blasphemy shows that very little has changed for the area’s Christians.
Shafaqat Masih, 35, and his wife, Shagufta, face an uncertain future after being arrested for supposedly sending blasphemous text messages to a local Muslim. A local human rights advocate says Shafaqat told him he had been forced into confessing his guilt.
Mr Saeed continued: “The blasphemy laws are being misused time and time again. The Pakistani government must amend the blasphemy laws so that they can no longer be used to make false accusations against innocent people. People who committed no crime are literally losing their lives because of these unjust laws.”