PAKISTAN: Christian man brutally beaten by mob in Sargodha

Sargodha Riot (Crop)On 25 May Nazir Masih (73), a Christian shoe factory owner, and his family were brutally attacked by a mob of over 1,000 people in Mujahid Colony, Sargodha, Punjab province. The mob attack followed a broadcast made on the loudspeaker of a local mosque making false accusations against Nazir of desecrating the Quran. The incident sent shockwaves through local Christians, leaving them in fear and uncertainty.

The attack was reportedly incited by Nazir’s neighbour Irfan Gondal, who was jealous of his business success. Just a few days before the attack, an altercation between the children of both families had further fuelled tensions. It is understood that Irfan Gondal seized the opportunity to incite violence by falsely accusing Nazir of burning the Quran when he saw the family burning old papers.

This false allegation quickly incited a mob to violently assault Nazir, dragging him into the street and setting his house and factory on fire. The mob completely destroyed all raw materials and packaging in the factory. Eyewitnesses described the mob as highly charged, with children actively participating in the destruction and women filming the incident on their phones.

Video footage shows the mob mercilessly beating Nazir and causing severe injuries. Members of the mob threw stones and bricks at him and beat him with steel rods. Police intervened, rescuing Nazir and his family and Nazir was brought to hospital where he had surgery on his head. He was subsequently transferred to another hospital where he remains in a critical but stable condition. Ten members of his family were also rescued and are now in protective custody.

Several other Christian families in the area fled their homes in fear. The police managed to restore order using tear gas to disperse the mob and arrest dozens of individuals. The police are analysing CCTV footage to identify all perpetrators involved in the violence.

Police-guard-Presbyterian-church-building-in-Sargodha-Pakistan-on-Sunday-May-26-2024.On the following day (Sunday 26 May), more than 1,000 police were deployed at churches and Christian-populated areas in Sargodha District as officials began enforcing a seven-day ban on protests and sit-ins. The assembly of four or more people was also forbidden.

Two First Information Reports (FIRs) have been registered. The first, filed on 25 May, accuses Nazir Masih of desecrating the Quran under sections 295-A and 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code and section nine of the Anti-Terrorism Act. The second FIR accuses over four hundred individuals of offences including terrorism, attempted murder, arson, unlawful assembly, and the use of explosives.

Punjab Minister for Minority Affairs Ramesh Singh Arora vowed that those involved in the blasphemy incident will be punished according to the law.

Nasir Saeed, Director of Church in Chains partner organisation CLAAS-UK, emphasised the urgent need for justice and legal reforms to protect religious minorities in Pakistan. “Christians in Pakistan are in a state of fear”, he said. “The chaos of the Jaranwala incident [in August 2023] is still fresh in our minds, and now this new attack has occurred. The perpetrators of the Jaranwala attacks have not yet been punished, and several have been released on bail. The intentional delay by the authorities in providing justice to the Jaranwala victims has  encouraged this recent attack.

“If these attackers are not brought to justice, it will send a message that anyone can take the law in their own hands and commit crimes under the guise of religion with impunity. The recent attack is a clear message that blasphemy laws are being continuously misused, and urgent changes are needed to save innocent people’s lives.”

Read more about Pakistan’s blasphemy laws

(CLAAS, Christian Daily International-Morning Star News, Christian Solidarity Worldwide)

Photos: CLAAS, Christian Daily International-Morning Star News