Friday, March 15, 2013

''Echoes of Gojra''

The Supreme Court has observed that the Punjab Police failed to protect the lives and properties of the people of Joseph Colony in Lahore which was attacked, looted and burned last weekend. In an interim order, the court ruled that the attack was predictable and preventable. Police statements in the case were found to be contradictory and the court queried why the residents were forced to leave their homes on the night of March 8/9 – giving a free hand to those who came to destroy them the next day. It is difficult not to conclude that the police had foreknowledge of what was afoot and did nothing to stop it, either before the incident began or for its duration – and there is ample evidence that they stood by as the destruction occurred. From that analysis comes the equally weighty conclusion that the police were complicit in the crimes they were silent witness to. During the course of proceedings the Punjab advocate general placed on record the report of the judicial commission in respect of the August 2009 Gojra incident which must make for grim reading. In Gojra, a mob – mainly comprising members of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SPP) – had set some 100 Christian homes alight. Eight Christians were burnt alive. The similarities of circumstance and event between Gojra and Joseph Colony are striking. There were slow or inappropriate responses from the police who had prior intelligence. Following the Gojra crime, the Punjab government had set up a tribunal which duly presented its findings in October 2009, also proposing amendments to some controversial sections in the PPC, the CrPC, the Police Order 2002 as well as the anti-blasphemy laws. But the report saw little exposure or public discussion and its recommendations were not followed due to differences between the home department and the police. The court was also informed that a ‘compromise’ had been reached between the accused and the victims of the Gojra incident! Wondering what made the Punjab government fail to follow through on the tribunal’s findings, the bench noted that what happened at Joseph Colony could have been avoided had the government acted on the Gojra report. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif should answer questions arising out of the whole affair. A report in this newspaper has detailed how police officers suspended after being found responsible for what happened at Gojra were reinstated and how a Christian who had brought murder charges against SSP members and a PML-N office-bearer had to flee the country. The lessons are clear and the conclusion unpleasant. The safety of our minorities is a minority consideration as far as the police are concerned. We should at least be thankful for a proactive judiciary, which resumes hearing of the case on March 18, as a spur to police reforms, because on the plentiful evidence in the public domain the police are never going to willingly reform themselves.

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