Anti-terrorism court's five-year jail terms and huge fines welcomed by Catholic officials
Hindus meet a visiting Christian politician at the vandalized Siddhi Vinayak temple in Bhong city of Punjab province in September 2021. (Photo supplied)
Catholic officials in Pakistan have hailed an anti-terrorism court’s verdict to hand down a five-year jail term and a large fine to each of 22 people convicted of vandalizing a Hindu temple.
The court ruled that the fines of 400,000 rupees (US$2,070) each would be deposited in the account of Siddhi Vinayak temple in Bhong city of Punjab province.
The station house officer of the area was suspended for his inability to stop the attack, which happened on Aug. 4 last year following an allegation of desecration of a Muslim madrasa.
A local cleric had filed a blasphemy case accusing a nine-year-old Hindu boy of urinating on the carpet inside the library of the Muslim seminary.
Police arrested 84 people for attacking and damaging the Hindu temple but the court acquitted 62.
Church leaders welcomed the latest verdict but complained of biased prosecution in cases of anti-Christian attacks.
“Christians, like the Hazara Shias of Balochistan province, have no voice. Despite evidence, the biased courts are inclined to the powerful lawyers from the majority"
“It’s a rare instance as we always see all the attackers getting bail and declared innocent. None of them are charged with blasphemy for desecrating churches,” said Father John Murad, parish priest of Sacred Heart Church in Gojra.
Not a single person was convicted over the 2009 Gojra riots when 10 Christians were killed, seven of them burned alive, while four churches were destroyed following a blasphemy allegation.
“Christians, like the Hazara Shias of Balochistan province, have no voice. Despite evidence, the biased courts are inclined to the powerful lawyers from the majority,” Father Murad told UCA News.
In 2017, an anti-terrorism court absolved 106 suspects involved in the torching of 150 houses and three churches in Joseph Colony, a predominantly Christian neighborhood in Lahore, following a blasphemy allegation against a Christian. The suspects were freed due to a lack of evidence.
According to Ata-ur-Rehman Saman, coordinator of the Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), biased prosecution in cases of anti-Christian attacks is specific to Punjab province.
“Most of such cases end in lower courts with quick relief to the attackers. However, the latest verdict paves the way for the assertion and implementation of the law. It gives a public message to think twice before targeting a minority place of worship,” he said.
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