LAHORE – The poor policing has given room to vandals to unleash mob justice in Joseph Colony in the Badami Bagh police limits on Saturday

The frightened Christian fled their homes silently on the Friday night after the police alerted the residents about a possible backlash, involving mob justice after the reported blasphemy. “The local police asked the residents to vacate their residences. And they fled. This helped police save precious lives since no death has been reported,” a police officer said.

Eyewitnesses said that protesters, chanting slogans in favour of blasphemy laws, assembled at the Christian neighbourhood in the morning and then attacked the homes. Several local religious leaders were leading the mob in the assault, they added.

The police poorly failed to control the protesters since many policemen were unwilling to take action. Some cops were waiting for the ‘orders’ from the high command while many were seen in favour of the assault on the Christians over blasphemy. The protesters had almost done their ‘job’ when heavy police contingents begun arriving in the troubled area.

Punjab Chief Minister Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif taking strict notice of the poor police planning replaced two senior officers including SSP (Operations) Sohail Akhtar Sukhera and SP (City) Multan Khan. According to officials, both the officers were made Officers on Special Duty (OSD) while a high-level committee is investigating the incident thoroughly. IGP Punjab Khan Baig has suspended from service the SHO and the DSP concerned.

It was learnt that the police did not take the situation seriously before it became explosive as the top police officers even did not bother to visit the trouble-hit vicinity. Neither the local political leaders were involved to cool down the temperature.

Over one hundred homes of Christians were torched and many shops were ransacked and pillaged as well on Saturday when thousands of highly-charged men stormed the Joseph Colony, a small population of 150 families.

Police claimed that more than ten thousand protesters went on the rampage and attacked the neighborhood, where less than 200 cops were on guard to keep the situation under control. Angry protesters converged around Joseph Colony. In the presence of the police, they set ablaze the homes and other belongings of the local Christians including motorcycles, bicycles, and rickshaws. Equipped with iron rods and wooden-clubs, the protesters were carrying petrol bottles to set homes on fire.

“Why did the armed men attack our homes even after the arrest of the Christian man accused of blasphemy?” questioned Aslam Masih, a resident of the colony while he was talking to this reporter. He also blamed the police negligence that led to the devastation.  The police are grilling the 28-year-old blasphemer, said to be sanitary worker and identified as Sawan Masih, who allegedly committed the ‘blasphemy’ two days ago.

Initial investigations revealed that Sawan Masih had passed derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) when he was drinking liquor with his Muslim barber friend, also the complainant in the FIR, on Wednesday night. A case was registered against the accused under section 295-C on the complaint of his friend.

According to insiders, the situation went out of control when the police wielded to batons to disperse the mob, trigging violent cashes between the police and the protesters. More than 20 policemen including senior officers were also among the injured.

There were conflicting reports about the number of burnt homes. Opposition Leader in the Punjab Assembly Raja Riaz told reporters that more than one hundred homes were torched during the violent clashes between the police and the mob. However, a police officer, conditioning anonymity, said that eight to ten homes of the Christians and as many shops were completely torched while 20 homes were found partially gutted.

After two days of unrest in the City’s downtown, the police have sealed off the entire Joseph Colony. The vicinity was seen in a curfew-like situation on Saturday night.

Meanwhile, police sources said that a criminal case was registered against hundreds of protesters, mostly unidentified, for vandalism, creating lawlessness like situation, and setting the homes of the Christians on fire. Police sources also revealed that more than 30 protesters, who led the assault on the minority, were identified through the video recordings of the incident.

“No one is safe in this state, where the minorities are on the hit-list. We are not safe here. We are very terrified after the brazen assault.” Joseph Masih, another 40-year-old resident of the colony said. The community was left with no other choice but to flee the area in haste, leaving behind their homes and properties vulnerable to attacks.