Still no justice for Jaranwala victims – bishop

A bishop in Pakistan has expressed his disappointment with the authorities for failing to bring to justice those behind one of the country’s worst attacks against Christians – and for not doing enough to help victims.   

Highlighting the growing fears of his people, Bishop Indrias Rehmat of Faisalabad said that more than seven months on from the atrocities in Jaranwala, Punjab, those arrested were gradually being released and that nobody had been charged in connection with the violence.

Visit of the Bishop Joseph Indrias Rehmat to the Christian Town in Jarnawala after the attack
Visit of the Bishop Joseph Indrias Rehmat to the Christian Town in Jarnawala after the attack

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity for persecuted Christians, the bishop said his call for justice had gone largely unheeded since the attacks on 16 August when more than 20 churches were torched and at least 100 Christians’ homes were targeted.

Bishop Rehmat said: “More than 300 people were arrested [following the atrocity] but it is unlikely that they will face justice. Slowly, they have started releasing them. Nobody has been charged.” The bishop went on to criticise the government’s repair of three damaged churches in the wake of the attacks on 16 August, saying the buildings were still unsafe to enter.

He said: “I went to see the government’s work repairing damaged buildings but told them to stop. They wanted to show the media that everything was OK, but they had just whitewashed the walls. They renovated three churches. The Prime Minister came and saw this. Still, I could smell the smoke. It is not safe to pray under these roofs.”

He added: “It is now more than seven months since the attack. We want justice. The culprits must be brought to justice and then it will be a lesson to others.”

While thankful of the government’s commitment to providing compensation to victims, he said far more was needed. The bishop said: “We have had lip service from the government but not enough has been done in reality.”

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

He said: “We have been distributing help, other brothers and sisters are helping, showing concern but we do not see enough of this at an official level. Still, they have not caught the culprits. This makes the people scared.” The bishop said he had set out his concerns in a meeting with police officials in Faisalabad.

The meeting came after the Supreme Court of Pakistan dismissed the Punjab government’s report on its response to the Jaranwala incident, with Chief Justice Qazi Faiz Isa saying the document was “worth throwing in the trash”.

The court criticised the report for lacking detail and only giving limited information about the authorities’ progress towards justice for victims. The report stated that despite the registration of 22 cases and the arrest of 304 individuals, only 18 First Information Reports (FIRs) had been submitted over a six-month period.

In the ACN interview, Bishop Rehmat explained that, led by local parish priest Father Khalid Mukhtar, the Church had been working with victims seeking justice in the wake of damage to their property and looting of jewellery and other precious items. He also gave a progress report on renovation work supported by ACN and other organisations, saying the Church was close to completing repairs, notably redecoration work, to 150 homes of Christians in Jaranwala damaged on 16 August.

Church and Christian homes destroyed after the extremists' attack
Church and Christian homes destroyed after the extremists’ attack

The bishop said that the Church had provided families with furniture, beds, glasses and crockery to replace items lost during attacks on Christian homes. Just before Easter, using funds provided by ACN, the bishop distributed aid including one-month’s food rations and other household items.

Regarding future support, the bishop explained that 15 families will be given motorbikes and 13 will receive autorickshaws to help them find work as taxi drivers and couriers. Up to 400 children will get school stationery – books and school bags.

Thanking ACN for its support for the victims of Jaranwala, the bishop said: “We are very grateful for this great level of support. All of us, myself, my priests, my people, pray for ACN and all the benefactors.”

 

By John Pontifex.

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