HRCP Report Reveals Targeted Attack in Sargodha, Exploiting Religious Tensions

SARGODHA — The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has released a fact-finding report indicating that the May 25 mob attack on Christian families in Mujahid Colony, Sargodha, was a calculated assault, manipulated through religious fervour to gain maximum leverage.

According to the HRCP report, the violence erupted after Nazir Masih, a Christian man, and his son Sultan Masih were accused of deliberately burning pages of the Holy Quran. The incident was allegedly incited by an announcement from a local mosque, revealing deep-rooted religious and personal tensions within the community.

The trouble began when Nazir Masih was accused of desecrating the Quran by a neighbour, Ayub Gondal, following a dispute between their children. This accusation led to a mosque announcement that mobilized a mob of approximately 2,000 people, demanding the death of Nazir and Sultan Masih. The call to action also circulated via WhatsApp.

Armed with rocks, sticks, and petrol bombs, the mob created chaos. The police initially attempted to control the crowd but soon evacuated the family, using teargas to rescue nine members, including women and children. Despite these efforts, Nazir Masih was caught and severely beaten, succumbing to his injuries on June 3, 2024.

The HRCP dispatched a fact-finding mission to Sargodha on May 28, 2024. The team, consisting of Maheen Pracha, Asad Jamal, and Yaqoob Khan Bangash, engaged with local religious, community, and political leaders, senior police officers, the victim’s family, and residents of Mujahid Colony.

The investigation revealed that approximately 150-200 Christian families lived in Mujahid Colony among roughly 2,000 Muslim families, generally maintaining cordial relations. However, the altercation between Gondal’s and Sultan Masih’s children escalated into a religiously charged accusation.

The mob not only injured Nazir but also destroyed his family’s shoe workshop, which employed nine Christian workers. The HRCP noted that police gathered necessary evidence but appeared to downplay the incident under directives from the Punjab chief minister, causing concerns among the Christian community about their safety in returning to the area.

A prominent poster of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) outside Gondal’s shop suggested political motivations behind the attack, given the TLP’s history of using blasphemy allegations for political gain.

Two First Information Reports (FIRs) were filed: the first against Nazir Masih on blasphemy charges and the second against the mob for attempted murder. However, the mosque announcement, crucial in mobilizing the mob, was notably absent from the FIRs.

The HRCP concluded that the attack stemmed from a personal dispute, exploited by Gondal through a blasphemy accusation. They called for a thorough investigation and prosecution of all involved, including political parties like TLP, and emphasized the need to implement the 2014 Supreme Court judgment on the rights of religious minorities. The commission also urged for amendments to blasphemy laws to prevent misuse and ensure the physical and economic well-being of affected families, promoting stronger interfaith relationships to avert future incidents.

In response to the violence, civil society activists and the Christian community staged nationwide protests. On June 1, the National Minorities Alliance held a protest in Faisalabad, condemning the violence and demanding state protection for minorities. Lala Robin, leading the demonstration, called for an empowered commission to investigate violence against minorities.

On June 4, Christian community members and human rights activists protested outside the National Press Club in Islamabad. Speakers, including Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Rawalpindi-Islamabad, expressed profound sorrow over the incident and called for the arrest and prosecution of those responsible to prevent future occurrences. Senior PPP leader Farhatullah Babar, HRCP Co-chairperson Munizae Jahangir, rights activist Sadia Bokhari, Senator Khalil Tahir Sindhu, and others also condemned the attack, demanding stringent legal action and genuine punishment to curb such violence.

This targeted attack highlights the urgent need for comprehensive measures to protect religious minorities and foster interfaith harmony in Pakistan.