Hundreds of people fled their homes from a Christian neighborhood in Lahore after a frenzied mob of about 2,000 men and women attackedtheir houses to exact revenge for an alleged desecration of the Holy Quran. The mob was baton charged after Minister for Education Rana Mashhood Ahmed Khan, imam of Badshahi Mosque Maulana Abdul Khabir Azad, and other senior police officers failed to peacefully disperse the crowd.
The angry crowd threw stones at the police, injuring many including DIG Operations Dr Haider Ashraf. The police threw tear gas on the rioters, arrested and charged many of them under anti-terrorism law, and quickly called on contingents of Elite Force and Rangers for help.
“We were trying to negotiate with the protesters but they were getting out of control and making inhumane demands. Those who instigated them had fled from the scene after realizing the gravity of the situation,” Dr Haider Ashraf said.
Some rioters were demanding that the suspect be immediately executed in front of the public. Others insisted the suspect be handed to the mob so that he could be killed the way the two Muslims were lynched and burned in Youhanabad.
Only two kilometers from the locality, a Christian boy was burned alive in mysterious circumstances in April.
“Religion is a sensitive matter for us but such lawlessness cannot be allowed,” the police officer said. “Enough is enough. Such incidents tarnish the image of our country. The Zimbabwean cricket team is touring and we cannot afford any disturbance like this.”
The Supreme Court had recently said police were negligent when a Christian couple was lynched and burned in Kot Radha Kishan last November.
The incident took place in the Dhoop Sarhi locality of Sandha on Sunday evening, after a Christian man, Humayun Faisal (30), was allegedlyseen burning pages of the Holy Quran. Humayun, who works for Lahore Waste Management Company, was sweeping roads about threekilometers away in Shera Kot at that time. Sunday, May 24, was the Feast of Pentecost for Christians, and he was engaged in public service.
The case (number 424) was registered in Gulshan-e-Ravi Police Station on the complaint of Syed Zeeshanul Haq, who submitted that he, Muhammad Jamshed, and Kashif Ali Shah were coming out of Shah Noor Jamia Mosque at about 2pm when “we saw a man taking out sacred pages from a canister hung from an electricity poll and setting them on fire.” Haq told a newspaper that the crowd beat him and then “tried to burn him alive” but then he was handed over to the police.
Despite a known history of mental illness, and the arrest of the suspect, the mob still was not satisfied. According to some reports, local clerics led the crowd from the police station to Dhoop Sarhi, where about 250 Christians live.
Pastor Riaz Malik, a resident of the neighborhood, was passing by the Gulshan-e-Ravi Police Station and had seen the protest. “I came home immediately and warned everyone in the street of a possible attack.”
Initially, some young men gathered and called them names as they waited for others to arrive, Malik said. “Soon the mob swelled to hundreds. They tore religious symbols, pelted houses with stones and then looted some of them.”
Another resident of the area, Sharafat Randhawa, said that he managed to send most of his family members away. “But my daughter, two daughters-in-law, wife, one grandson and I could not flee. I locked the door and went on the top roof from where I could see the entire mob,” he said. “Among the crowd one tall man was repeatedly inciting everyone to bring out all Christian women, men, children and elderly and set them on fire.”
Twenty-year-old Elishba Alamgir called her father at about 5pm and told him on the phone that some men were trying to enter the house. “My house is in front of Humayun’s house so the crowd was right outside. My daughter and son were alone at home when this attack took place,” said Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Minority Wing Vice President Chaudhry Alamgir.
“I have hidden myself behind a cupboard and am holding two knives. I will kill myself if they manage to enter the house,” Elishba told him. “I was away,” said Alamgir, “and there was a crowd outside. We could only cry on the phone together, and I could do nothing more.”
“Humayun was not mentally sound,” said Randhawa. “He tried to jump off the roof once, and once he cut his hands with a blade. He was probably an addict too.”
Alamgir said that the suspect’s mother had asked him about two years ago to get him admitted in a mental asylum, and he did live in the Punjab Institute of Mental Health for some time.
“By 8pm, the mob had increased to about 2,000 people,” said Pastor Malik. “Then the mobs started breaking into several houses and plunderingthem.”
But the mob dispersed when reinforcement of the Elite Force and contingents of Rangers arrived.
“I reached there at around 9pm when Minister Rana Mashhood was negotiating with them,” said Christian parliamentarian Mary Gill, who got stranded in a house after another groups of rioters gathered at the site. “The number of police personnel had decreased. They believed the protestors would not reassemble. When I was leaving, another group of protestors arrived and there was a clash with the police.” She tookrefuge in the house of a Muslim party worker, but it was only a few yards away from the Christian neighborhood and the local church.
Sandha Police Station registered an FIR (number 627) against 48 identified people.
“The mobsters were even beating the doors of Muslim residents of the area,” Ms Gill said, “and inciting them to ‘show courage’ and ‘teach theChristians a lesson’.”