Report calls Sargodha, Pakistan attack, ‘calculated, manipulated’

Nazeer Masih Gill died on June 3, 2024 after May 25 attack in Sargodha District, Pakistan.
Nazeer Masih Gill died on June 3, 2024 after May 25 attack in Sargodha District, Pakistan. | (Christian Daily International-Morning Star News)

The May 25 Muslim mob attack that killed a Christian in Sargodha, Pakistan was a “calculated assault, manipulated through religious fervor to gain maximum leverage,” according to a report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

The attack in Sargodha’s Mujahid Colony, Punjab Province led to the death of Nazeer Masih Gill on June 3 from injuries sustained in the assault.

Nazeer Gill was accused of defiling the Quran by his neighbor, Ayub Gondal, whose children had recently had an altercation with Nazeer’s grandchildren, according to the HRCP report. It concluded that the attack on the Gill family, which destroyed their shoe factory, likely stemmed from a personal dispute that Gondal had with Nazeer Gill’s family.

The HRCP noted that mosque announcements calling Muslims to gather due to the blasphemy accusation played a key role.

“Two FIRs [First Information Reports] were filed in connection with the incident. The first, lodged against Nazeer Masih [Gill] on the day of the attack, included charges of blasphemy and sectarian hatred,” the report stated. “The second, filed after Nazeer’s death, charged the mob with attempted murder. However, the HRCP noted that the mosque announcement, which played a critical role in rallying the mob, was not mentioned in the FIR.”

The report emphasized the need for a thorough investigation and prosecution of all involved, including addressing the role of political parties like Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), in instigating such violence.

The mob attacked the home of Nazeer Gill and his son, Sultan Masih Gill, accused of deliberately burning pages of the Quran, the report noted, adding that the mosque announcements brought to light deep-seated religious and personal tensions.

The report states the mosque announcement charged up a mob of about 2,000 people demanding the death of Nazeer Gill and his son. The message also circulated on WhatsApp.

“The mob, armed with rocks, sticks and petrol bombs created a scene of chaos,” the report states. “The police initially tried to calm the crowd but, realizing the severity of the situation, decided to evacuate the family.”

Police used tear gas as cover to rescue nine family members, including women and children from the mob, it stated.

“However, Nazeer Masih was caught and severely beaten by the crowd. He succumbed to injuries on June 3,” it states.

The HRCP fact-finding mission of Maheen Pracha, Asad Jamal and Yaqoob Khan Bangash met with local religious, community and political leaders as well as senior police officers, members of the victim’s family and residents of the Mujahid Colony on May 28.

The mission learned that 150 to 200 Christian families lived in Mujahid Colony among roughly 2,000 Muslim families, and that their relations had generally been cordial.

The mob attack badly injured Nazeer Gill and burned down his family’s shoe workshop, where nine Christian workers were employed, according to the report.

The HRCP mission found that police had gathered necessary evidence from the scene but had also started restoring the area under directives from the Punjab chief minister, which was perceived as downplaying the incident. Christian community members voiced concerns and expressed doubt about their safety to return to the Mujahid Colony.

“The Punjab government has attempted to downplay the incident by reportedly discouraging the press coverage and failing to condemn the incident unequivocally,” the report states.

A prominent poster of Muslim extremist political party TLP outside Gondal’s shop indicated possible political motivations behind the attack, given the TLP’s history of using blasphemy allegations for political leverage, according to the report.

The mission also stressed the importance of implementing the 2014 Supreme Court judgment on the rights of religious minorities and called for amendments to the blasphemy laws to prevent misuse.

The HRCP recommended measures to restore Christian citizens’ confidence and concerted efforts to counter hate speech, especially on social media platforms and through mosque loudspeakers.

“Strict action should be taken against political parties that use blasphemy allegations as a tool for political purposes,” it states. “Police response time should be improved, and adequate equipment and powers given to them to deal with such incidents. Police officers on the ground must be sensitized to the very real risk that complaints of alleged blasphemy can carry for religious minorities.”

The 2014 Supreme Court judgment on the rights of religious minorities must be implemented in letter and spirit, it adds.

“The government must ensure the physical and economic wellbeing of the affected families and rehabilitate them as swiftly as possible,” it concludes.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.