Communal tension that had been simmering for some weeks in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad, exploded into Christian-Muslim riots on Monday, July 19, 2010, after unidentified gunmen killed two Christian brothers who had been accused of blasphemy, which they had both strongly denied.
Rashid Emmanuel, 36, and his brother Sajid Emmanuel, 30, were killed on court premises in Faisalabad on Monday afternoon, prompting local Christians to stage a protest demonstration.
ANS has discovered that the enraged Christians pelted stones and shouted slogans against the police and the government.
Muslims also took out rallies in Faisalabad city in response to the Christian rally that has acutely aggravated the already existing Christian-Muslim tension, Christian sources told ANS.
ANS has learned that the Muslim rioters caused damage to shops and houses of Christians in the Warispura area of the city.
According to Naveed Walter, President of Human Rights Focus Pakistan, the Muslim’s had selected those “Christian businesses which were doing very well” to attack.
The Faisalabad-based Christian rights activist said that the Muslim mob who had “gripped” the Christian residents of Warispura with “overwhelming fear” threw stones at Christians’ houses which left dozens of Christians injured.
The President of Human Rights Focus Pakistan told ANS that people from Pakistani town of Gojra had also come to Faisalabad to show their condolences for the deaths of Rashid and Sajid Emmanuel.
Gojra is a small town in the Punjab province of Pakistan which had exploded into international limelight in August, 2009, when seven Christians were burned alive over false rumors that Christians had committed blasphemy.
“They bitterly mourned the loss of Rashid and Sajid Emmanuel,” said the spokesman of Human Rights Focus Pakistan. “It was quite an emotional and heart-rending scene. They were weeping bitterly and beating their chests to mourn the losses.”
Mr. Walter quoted Ashar, the brother-in-law of the murdered brothers, and an eye-witness of the killings, as saying that he had heard “three gunshots” when he was returning to the court after handing soft drinks to Rashid and Sajid when they were being taken to jail in police custody after their court appearance on Monday.
“After hearing the gunshots, I rushed to the scene of incident. The people had swarmed there like bees, but there was no sign ofthe killers,” Naveed Walter quoted Ashar as saying.
The President of the Human Rights Focus Pakistan went on to blame the killing of the Christian brothers on “inadequate” security.
“The security staff at the gate of the Sessions Court Faisalabad, usually confiscate knives and nail-cutters. I fail to comprehend how killers managed to take weapons inside the court premises,” Mr. Walter said.
According to Pakistan media reports, rioters then blocked roads by burning tires.
The local media reports also said that the Inspector General of Police of Punjab had “suspended” Muhammad Haneef, the Superintendent of the Police [Investigation Branch,] and also the Deputy Superintendent of the Police, over their “failure maintain law and order.”
According to Pakistan electronic media reports, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, phoned Mr. Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab, who apprised him of the situation.
The Prime Minister, according to the media reports, pledged the “full support” of the federal government to the Punjab government, so as to bring “normalcy” again to Faisalabad.
According to a Pakistan-based ARY TV report, the situation could “worsen” as hundreds of armed Christians and Muslims are still on roads in Faisalabad.
The riots that started on Monday afternoon and had not fully calmed until 1:00 am Pakistan time, said the ARY TV report.
The media reports also revealed that a “state of emergency” has been imposed in Faisalabad after the riots.
Shahid Ali, ARY TV’s Correspondent in Faisalabad, said that he feared that a “Gojra-like situation” could take place in Faisalabad if law enforcement agencies failed to restore law and order in the city.
ANS has been told by a source in Faisalabad that he fears that the Christian residents of the city “could become violent” when the dead bodies of Rashid and Sajid Emmanuel are retuned to the family.
According to Naveed Walter, some Christian families who were residing close to the deceased brothers’ family had already “moved to safety” after the blasphemy accusations were orginally leveled against Rashid and Sajid Emmanuel.
On condition of anonymity, a source told ANS that three Christian members of the Punjab provincial assembly from Faisalabad “wanted to bury the deceased late on Monday night.”
With the tinder-box situation in the city, local residents fear that the Christian-Muslim tension in Faisalabad could have “enormous implications” for the Christians there if calm does not return to the troubled city on Friday.
Militant Islamic organizations in Pakistan often stage rallies and protest demonstrations after Friday sermons in mosques.
Note: Faisalabad is a city in the province of Punjab, Pakistan. It was formerly known as Lyallpur. Faisalabad is the third largest city in Pakistan after Karachi and Lahore.
Dan Wooding, Assist News Service