Pakistan: Bishop praises Supreme Court’s commitment to justice for Jaranwala victims

The President of Pakistan’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Samson Shukardin, has welcomed a Supreme Court decision to reject a government report into the authorities’ response to the attacks in Jaranwala last August described by Church leaders as the “worst incident against Christians” in the nation’s history. Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the bishop praised Pakistan’s highest court which threw out the government report on the attacks where in a single day a mob torched more than 25 churches and up to 100 homes belonging to Christians.

Bishop Samson Shukardin, OFM
Bishop Samson Shukardin, OFM

Qazi Faez Isa, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, who headed the three-member bench of the Supreme Court, described the report, submitted by the Additional Advocate General of Punjab, as being worthy of “being thrown in the dustbin”. The court alleged the report lacked relevant information, including details of arrests and court cases and that the investigation agencies lacked determination to bring the perpetrators to justice.

At a Supreme Court hearing about the report, a Punjab law officer stated that after 304 arrests only 22 cases had been registered, with just 18 charge sheets collected. The court ordered that a fresh report be submitted within two weeks, warning the authorities they may face suspension if they fail to carry out their investigations thoroughly.

In his ACN interview, Bishop Shukardin, who heads the Diocese of Hyderabad, in Sindh Province, described the Supreme Court’s reaction to the government report on Jaranwala as “very positive for us as Christians. This is the first time…the Supreme Court has taken this issue so seriously.” His comments come amid reports of widespread breakdown in trust between the police and the Christian community and others in Jaranwala and elsewhere.

Church leaders have described how people are disillusioned about delays in bringing perpetrators to justice and fears that police are not committed to protecting Christians and other minorities at risk of attack. One church leader told ACN: “In Jaranwala, they have lost confidence in the police. Every time there is an incident, the police arrest people – even Christians have been arrested but nothing happens.”

Victims of Jaranwala - burnt churches and buildings
Victims of Jaranwala – burnt churches and buildings

Bishop Shukardin said that another ray of hope came from people in Jaranwala, including Muslims, who used social media to share details about the atrocity – including images and video – as events unfolded. He said: “The local people were the ones who were the first to bring the news. In other words, they took the news, told people and showed the reality. This time the ordinary people were in favour that it should not be happening like this.”

Bishop Shukardin’s comments come after last month’s launch of Persecuted Yet Again, a report into the Jaranwala incident and its aftermath, held in the UK Houses of Parliament. Persecuted Yet Again, produced by Pakistan’s Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace, gives evidence to show the atrocity was pre-planned, that the police were slow to react as the violence unfolded and recounts incidents where local Muslims defended Christians against attackers.

The report, produced in conjunction with ACN (UK), was presented at a Parliamentary meeting the charity organised chaired by Lord Alton of Liverpool with Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore providing analysis about the atrocity.

 

By John Pontifex.

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