Pakistani Christian man in stable condition after mob attack; police arrest 26 of 44 suspects

Police guard Presbyterian church building in Sargodha, Pakistan, on May 26, 2024.
Police guard Presbyterian church building in Sargodha, Pakistan, on May 26, 2024. | Screengrab: Facebook/(Christian Daily International-Morning Star News

LAHORE, Pakistan — A Christian in Sargodha, Pakistan, who was critically wounded in a mob attack on Saturday due to false allegations of blasphemy, is in stable condition, sources said.

The mob of rioting Muslims beat Nazeer Masih Gill, 74, vandalized his house and burned his shoe factory in Sargodha city’s Mujahid Colony after an imam speaking on a loudspeaker at a mosque incited people to gather where he had burned wastepaper, a relative said.

“Gill underwent head surgery and is in stable condition now,” Inspector Shahid Iqbal of the Sargodha Urban Police Station told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “His family is safe and is being kept at a government guesthouse due to security concerns. They may return to their home when the situation normalizes.”

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Gill had burned wastepaper in the street outside his home and gone inside when someone threw a copy of the Quran into the fire, his nephew, Irfan Gill, said. A Muslim neighbor accused him of desecrating the Quran and instigated local Muslims to attack him, he said.

A tense calm prevailed in Sargodha on Sunday following a day of violence in Mujahid Colony triggered by the blasphemy allegations, with police arresting 26 Muslims in a case registered against 44 named suspects and 300 to 400 unidentified rioters, sources said.

Iqbal said the case against the rioters was registered under various sections of the ani-terrorism laws and Pakistan's Penal Code, including attempted murder, obstructing public officials in discharging their duty, assaulting a public official, and mischief by fire or explosive material with intent to destroy a house or cause death or hurt.

Iqbal, who was among the first to respond to the emergency call, said police and members of the Sargodha Peace Committee had tried their best to calm the mob, but the rioters set fire to Nazeer Gill’s shoe factory and attempted to enter his house from the adjoining buildings.

“The mob destroyed electricity meters and outdoor AC units outside Gill’s home and set them ablaze,” Iqbal said. “We rescued Gill from the burning building, but as soon as we brought him out, the mob started throwing stones at us and snatched him from our custody. They then proceeded to beat him with stones and sticks and attacked us when we tried to intervene. At least 10 policemen were injured while trying to save the man and transport him to the hospital.”

Raids on suspects followed police reviews of CCTV footage and social media videos, he said.

“We will make all efforts to arrest and prosecute all those who took the law into their hands,” Iqbal said. “No one will be allowed to challenge the writ of the state.”

He rejected criticism of the police for not stopping the mob from assaulting Gill, saying his colleagues’ injuries showed that they had made all possible efforts to calm the rioters.

“Several Muslim residents and clerics also played a positive role in the situation due to which we were able to rescue Gill’s family, otherwise they, too, could have fallen victim to the violent mob,” he said.

A blasphemy case has been registered against Nazeer Gill, and police claimed they were conducting a thorough and fair investigation into the allegations and would ensure that due process of law is followed, Iqbal said.

Another official with the Sargodha police said on condition of anonymity that local residents told them the victim and his family had a good reputation in the area and had never been involved in religious conflict.

“It’s quite possible that the incident was used by someone to trap Gill and his family, and we are determined to find the truth and hold the perpetrator accountable,” he told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.

Security beefed up

More than 1,000 police personnel on Sunday were deployed at churches and Christian-populated areas in Sargodha District as officials began enforcing a seven-day ban on protests and sit-ins.

Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, a Christian politician from Sargodha, said several Christian families who fled their homes on Saturday had started returning, assured by the heavy police deployment.

“I appreciate the local police and district officials for deploying adequate personnel in our areas which has given confidence to our people,” Chaudhry said. “However, this is the ninth incident related to blasphemy in Sargodha since 2023, and I urge the government to make sure that whoever is trying to disrupt peace and cause communal discord is identified and punished according to the law.”

A prominent Islamic cleric and chairman of the Central Moon Sighting Committee, Maulana Abdul Khabeer Azad, along with Islamic scholars of various schools of thought and Christian leaders, held a press conference at the Sargodha commissioner’s office on Sunday.

Maulana Azad said that honoring and protecting all divine books was their responsibility and part of their faiths.

“Islam orders the protection of the rights of the minorities, and the constitution of Pakistan is the guarantor of the rights of all minorities,” Azad said. “No one can be allowed to set up his own court in the country.”

He added that anti-national forces wanted to harm national unity by creating unrest in Pakistan through religious riots and chaos.

“Respect for humanity, a violence-free society, religious harmony and the promotion of the message of Pakistan were the responsibilities of all citizens,” he said, commending timely notice of the attack by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

Catholic Archbishop of Lahore, Sebastian Francis Shaw, said Christians were peace-loving citizens and respected all faiths.

“Inter-ethnic and inter-faith harmony is the most important need of the hour,” he said.

Punjab Minority Affairs Minister Sardar Ramesh Singh Arora said in a video statement that the country’s law and constitution were meant to protect minorities. The minister stated that damaging property based on blasphemy allegations was improper.

“Such incidents are an attempt to bring Pakistan into disrepute,” he said. “When there is law, no one will be allowed to violate it. Action will be taken against those responsible.”

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.

Originally published at Christian Daily International and Morning Star News 

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