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Mob acquitted of attack on Christian village

LAHORE (UCAN): An anti-terrorism court acquitted 106 people accused of being involved in a 2013 arson attack on the Christian village of Joseph Colony, Lahore, Pakistan.

On 9 March 2013, thousands of people armed with sticks and stones stormed Joseph Colony and set about 150 houses ablaze over allegations of blasphemy against Sawan Masih, a Christian.

Hundreds of homes, shops, vehicles and three churches were torched by the raging mob.

There were no casualties as Christians, fearing for their safety, had already fled the area after being warned by police that mob violence was on the cards.

But as the flames in the village died down, people turned their fire towards the authorities, accusing them of allowing the attack to take place by doing nothing to stop it.

Police finally did crack down on rioters, arresting over 100 people, but the damage was done. Sawan Masih was also arrested.

All the accused, who have been on bail, appeared before the court on January 28.

Local media reported the court as saying that there had been too little evidence presented to convict, as witnesses refused to recognise the suspects and had no objection if the accused were acquitted in the case.

Church leaders in Lahore expressed disappointment.

“This is quiet upsetting. Basically, this means that, despite video footage, documents and pictures of thousands rampaging through Christian properties, the court has not found anyone guilty. So mobs are free to do whatever they want,” Cecil Chaudhry, from the Justice and Peace Commission, said.

“Perhaps the police are not properly doing their job and rounding up the right people. Also, there is community-based pressure on the lower courts. If there was no substantial evidence, the court should also accept the bail of Sawan Masih,” Chaudhry continued.

Samson Salamat, the chairperson of Rawadari Tehreek (Movement for Tolerance), commented, “We are worried. Once again history has repeated itself and we are denied justice. None of the culprits in anti-Christian attacks have been apprehended in the past. While this gives a negative message to persecuted religious minorities, it also encourages extremists.”

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