|A senior police official in Pakistan has admitted that security forces failed in their duty to protect the victims of anti-Christian violence in Gojra one year ago.
Bishop Joseph Coutts lights candles for victims
He was speaking to almost 2,500 people who had gathered on Sunday, to mark the first anniversary of some of the Pakistan’s worst anti-Christian violence.
And, addressing the crowds in the Punjabi city of Gojra, some of the most prominent local Muslims deplored the violence which left eight people dead. They described the culprits as unworthy to be called Muslims and denounced their actions as against the precepts of the Qur’an.
Amid tight security involving road blocks and a high police presence, Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad presided at the Memorial Mass held at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Gojra.
The most poignant moment came when the bishop lit candles for each of those who died in the violence, including Musa Almas, aged seven, his 10-year-old sister, Umia, and five other members of their family whose pictures, were displayed nearby.
The family died on 1st August 2009 when an accusation under Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws sparked violence climaxing in an Islamist armed attack on the Christian quarter of Gojra.
With the situation in Gojra still tense a year later, Bishop Coutts told Aid to the Church in Need of his “huge relief” that the memorial events had passed off peacefully. A fortnight ago there was renewed violence after two Christians were killed outside a Faisalabad court house – an incident again sparked by a Blasphemy Law allegation.
The bishop described how, after the Memorial Mass, Toba Tek Singh district coordinating officer (DCO) Amaan Ullah declared that the police response to the crisis had been inadequate.
Bishop Coutts said: “The DCO admitted that what had happened in Gojra was a failure on the part of the police.
“The police had received sufficient reports to indicate that there was something happening in Gojra that could lead to serious violence.”
The comments come amid claims that the police should have imposed a Section 144 order in Gojra. Set out under Pakistan’s Penal Code, the order forbids gatherings of people within a defined area, with the aim of eliminating the risk of mob violence.
A judicial inquiry had already found fault with the police handing of the Gojra incident, but yesterday was the first public admission of its kind.
The bishop went on to say that several very senior Muslims, including a ‘Pir’ – meaning ‘Holy Man’ – appeared before the crowds in Gojra to describe the attacks as ‘un-Islamic’.
Bishop Coutts said: “The Pir said Islam does not teach that people should be attacked. He was quite clear about that. People who carry out attacks of this kind are not to be considered Muslims, he said, and the same applies to those who attack places of worship.”
Christians at a memorial Mass to mark the first anniversary of anti-Christian violence in Gojra, Pakistan, in which 8 people died. Photo: Diocese of Faisalabad, Pakistan The bishop added: “The people reacted to this very quietly. Normally after speeches it is the custom here to give some applause but it was different this time.
“In fact, I praised the people for their calm response. Indeed everything went wonderfully well, beyond my expectations – a huge relief.”
Meanwhile, local MP Aamir Joel, a Catholic, promised to put pressure on the government to release more funds pledged as compensation and intended for use to rebuild vital infrastructure to homes devastated by the Gojra violence.
Government compensation aid has already been used to rebuild homes destroyed in the violence. Gojra victims presented a full list of the contents of their homes destroyed in the violence in a bid to prompt the government into releasing further aid pledged as compensation.