26 August 2023
The Asian Forum for Development and Human Rights (FORUM-ASIA) and its six member organisations express deep concern over the recent attacks against minority Christians in Pakistan’s Jaranwala town in Punjab province.
Following allegations of blasphemy against two Christian residents, a mob of hundreds of Muslims responded by burning down churches, vandalising homes, and destroying private properties.
Violence broke after news spread that two Christian residents had allegedly torn pages from the Holy Quran and defaced them with blasphemous content. A wave of riots followed, wherein the homes of Christian residents were reportedly singled out and looted. The mobs also amassed household furnishings and private possessions outside churches before setting them ablaze. More than 86 homes and over 20 churches were affected, forcing several Christian families to flee.
According to critics, law enforcement agencies did not take adequate action to stop the vigilante mob.
The Punjab police have subsequently arrested over 140 suspects and registered two terror cases for ransacking and torching the Christian community’s settlement, including their homes and Churches. The cases registered included charges under Section 295 (desecration of a worship place) and Section 295-A (hurting religious feelings) of the Pakistan Penal Code. Furthermore, Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act was invoked alongside other sections pertaining to the attacking, burning, and damaging properties of the Christian community.
Misuse of Blasphemy Laws
Such mob attacks underscore the ongoing misuse of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, which were strengthened in the 1980s as part of a drive to Islamicise the state during the military dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq. Since then, blasphemy laws have been used to target religious minorities in the country, such as Christians, Shias, and Ahmedis.
‘Mere accusations of blasphemy have the potential to incite vigilante mob violence, resulting in social unrest as seen in Jaranwala. At present, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are characterised by their broad and vague nature. When misused, such laws could infringe upon people’s fundamental rights and freedoms. We urge the government to review these laws and ensure that the rights of minority groups are upheld at all times. FORUM-ASIA expresses its solidarity with minority Christians in Pakistan,’ said Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.
The recent proposals to expand Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and escalate their punitive measures could only make the country even more vulnerable to human rights violations. We underscore the urgency to review these laws to ensure equitable legal processes and to safeguard the rights of religious minorities.
Call to Action
FORUM-ASIA and its member organisations urge the Government of Pakistan to immediately address the distressing events in Jaranwala as well as the broader issue of impunity surrounding religious minorities.
We call on the authorities to prioritise the safety and well-being of all survivors, including the provision of security for minority Christians. Adequate financial compensation for victims and psycho-social assistance for trauma-affected individuals are imperative. Those responsible for arson, attacks, and incitement to violence must be held accountable through transparent legal proceedings without any impunity.
We urge the Government of Pakistan to effectively enforce a constitutional framework for addressing vigilante violence and combating discrimination against religious minorities. Given the recurring misuse of blasphemy laws, Pakistan must comprehensively review its laws, making sure that no legislation exists to foster intolerance, trample upon fundamental freedoms, and target religious minorities.
Last but not least, we encourage the Pakistani Government–in collaboration with local and international organisations–to raise public awareness about the fundamental rights and liberties of minority groups, including religious and ethnic minorities. There is a need to emphasise the role of majority communities in safeguarding the rights of minorities as well as in promoting social harmony and peaceful coexistence.
- Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
- Association of Women for Awareness & Motivation (AWAM)
- Bytes for All
- Awaz Foundation Pakistan – Centre for Development Services
- Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC)
- Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy (PODA)
- The Awakening