LAHORE – Thousands of Christians and Muslims took to the streets across the country on Sunday, demanding better protection to the minorities following torching of Joseph Colony in Lahore a day earlier.
All this came after a Muslim barber accused his Christian friend Sawan Masih of uttering derogatory words against Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), reportedly while they were consuming liquor on Thursday.
Police on Sunday fired into the air in Lahore and Karachi to disperse furious protesters venting their rage against the arson attack by engaging in same kind of vandalism against which they were protesting. Elsewhere in Punjab, Christians held small, peaceful protests, demanding immediate arrest of the attackers and their trail in terrorism courts.
There were also minor clashes between police and protesters in Karachi, where demonstrators threw stones at shops. Protest demonstrations were also held in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Quetta and some other cities of the country.
Demonstrations on Sunday in Lahore, where the tragedy happened, were largely peaceful. But violent protesters clashed with police in Nishtar Colony and Youhanaabad areas. Most of the demos in different parts of the city were led by the Christian community leaders, civil society representatives, rights activists and wings of some political parties.
A group of Christians staged a protest during Marathon Race, an event of ongoing Punjab Youth Festival, near Ring Road. Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Rana Mashood also joined that demo. Tahir Ashrafi, president of Pakistani Ulema Council, condemned the attack saying Islam did not permit such violence.
PPP (minority wing) held a demo outside the Punjab Assembly. The participants chanted slogans against the provincial government and demanded provision of safety to the minorities. PTI women wing gathered in front of Lahore Press Club and chanted slogans, expressing solidarity with the victims of the Joseph Colony. Pakistan Minorities League (PML) and workers of James Welfare Foundation also held a demonstration outside the Press Club to condemn the incident.
All these protests were peaceful but ugly scenes were seen at Nishtar Colony and Youhanaabad, along Ferozepur Road, where protesters started gathering in the morning and chanted slogans against the Punjab government, city police and administration. Clashes started when a group of protesters took to attacking buses, motorcycles, shops and other properties. The police responded by firing into air and baton-charged the hooligans, who also threw back stones and clubbed the policemen.
The agitators also ransacked Metro Bus stations at Nishtar Colony and Youhanaabad besides damaging the property and torturing the staff, triggering clashes with police in which many agitators and cops were injured. Some passersby also received injuries during the conflicts. These areas presented the picture of battlefield for about five hours.
PML-N MPAs Zaeem Quadri and Mian Naseer and some other local politicians tried to convince the demonstrator to end the agitation. But the protests vowed to continue it till the arrest of all the accused involved in Joseph Colony incident. Till the filing of this report, the protesters were on the stage in Nishtar Colony and Youhanaabad.
Police said it had arrested about two dozen Christian miscreants to maintain public order while more raids are underway. On the other hand, police said it had nabbed 150 suspects involved in the Christian colony torching. DIG (Operations) Rai Tahir told the media that these arrests were made in light of pictures and videos of the incident.
Police had registered case against 50 nominated persons and thousands of other unidentified miscreants under multiple sections of the PPC including 7-ATA (Anti-terrorism Act). The DIG said eight police teams started the operation last night which would continue. The police has also beefed up security of Christian areas, churches and missionary schools.