Joseph colony incident, HRCP holds police, administration responsible

General Lahore

Lahore: In its preliminary report after a fact-finding mission to the Joseph Colony in Badami Bagh, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan HRCP has held the police and the provincial administration squarely responsible for the horrible affair.

The commission in its report said:

The purpose of this preliminary report is to present facts as ascertained regarding the incident of violence on Saturday, 9th March, 2013, in Joseph Colony, Badami Bagh, Lahore, and the events that led up to the incident.

The report will also look at the response of the administration before and during the incident and identify those responsible for the lapse. These are the preliminary findings of the HRCP fact-finding mission based on initial investigations conducted over two days. The commission will issue a detailed report and findings within a few days.

On 9th March more than 200 houses in Joseph Colony were attacked, looted and burnt by a mob. The event which sparked the chain of events that led to the assault is said to have occurred on Wednesday, March 06. The story according to most residents is that on Wednesday evening a quarrel broke out between Shahid Imran, a local barber, and Sawan Masih alias Bodhi, while they were drinking together. At the end of the fight Imran alleged that Sawan had made blasphemous remarks. At a subsequent stage, a resident of a neighbouring locality, Sheikhabad, Shafiq alias Cheeko, came to know of the incident through Imran. Later Shafiq, with the apparent intention of attacking Sawan, went to Joseph Colony, burnt down the billiard table of Sawan and proceeded to curse and threaten Sawan and the Christian community generally. Sawan was subsequently arrested on Friday after an FIR under Section 295C, PPC, had been registered against him at the Police Station, Badami Bagh.

Zahida Parveen, a relative of the accused Sawan, said while talking to the HRCP team that on Friday evening the local police told the Christian community to vacate their houses as there was a possibility of violence erupting on Saturday. The police also assured them of the safety of their houses and their belongings. Following the warning by the police almost the entire community evacuated the colony on Friday.

Some of the residents expressed the fear that the local trader community might have played a role in escalating the tensions and consequently in the carnage. A local candidate for the upcoming Trader Association elections was alleged to have played a subversive role in the entire episode and in particular the incitement.

On Saturday a mob reportedly of around 3,000 ransacked and looted the colony with complete impunity, setting fire to majority of houses, burning them down completely. There is enough evidence to suggest that there was considerable presence of the police force on the scene of occurrence. There is nothing to suggest that the mob was in any way resisted by the police. According to some residents, there was looting before the houses were set on fire.

The HRCP mission finds it disturbing that the local administration that was clearly aware of the possibility of such an attack failed to take adequate measures either before or even during the attack. The warning issued by the police on Friday to the residents establishes conclusively the fact that the administration knew about arson and plunder in advance. The DCO, Lahore Mr. Noorul Amin Mengal, while talking to the mission, admitted the knowledge on Friday about possible violence and claimed to have informed his superiors, the Inspector General of Police, and the Chief Minister, about the situation. The DCO further said that he was present at some point during the incident on Saturday and asserted that maintenance of law and order was not part of his job as after the Police Order 2002 this power had devolved to the police administration.

The mission contacted the Superintendent of Police SP City, Imtiaz Sarwar, who had taken charge of the post after the occurrence. He said that in his opinion the police could have contained the protestors and a mistake had occurred in threat assessment by the local police and administration. The entire police administration at the time of the occurrence, consisting of SP City, DSP Badami Bagh and the SHO Badami Bagh have been removed from their posts and were not available for comment at this stage. The HRCP mission also tried to contact the SSP Investigation Lahore, Mr. Babar Bakht, who also was not available.

The HRCP mission feels that the responsibility for this horrific incident has to be ascribed at two levels, namely, immediate and ultimate. The immediate responsibility for this act lies primarily with the police and district administration that despite prior knowledge failed to act. The ultimate responsibility for this tragedy rests squarely with the provincial government. The statement by the DCO establishes that the provincial government at the highest level was aware of the threat and potential damage, even likely violence in advance, and yet failed to order any, measures. The HRCP mission also took note of statements made by the people it talked to that the raiders were ordinary residents from the adjacent areas and could not be identified as a group. That points to the effect of accumulated animus against the minority communities.