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No convictions two years after deadly assault on Pakistani Christians

Country/Region: Pakistan, South and East Asia

If those killed are non-Muslims, the killers are sure to walk free

Pakistani newspaper, Tribune
Burnt-Building-Gojra_4X3.jpg
Dozens of Christians homes
were blown up in Gojra

Nearly two years after a Muslim onslaught on a Christian settlement in Pakistan in which eight Christians were killed, none of the accused has been convicted and the case has ground to a halt.

Over 800 Muslims raided a Christian community in Gojra, Punjab, on 31 July, 2009; they looted property, blew up 60 houses using special explosives, and fired indiscriminately. Seven members of one family were among the eight killed.

The onslaught was an act of collective retribution for alleged “blasphemy” following rumours that a Quran had been burned during a Christian wedding ceremony.

There were initially 70 suspects and 185 witnesses but the case has been unravelling as witnesses kept slipping out. All but two of the suspects had been granted bail before arrest by the court.

And last week the two who had been detained, Atif alias Neeru and Ghulam Abbas, were bailed by a special Anti-Terrorism Court in Faisalabad, with criminal proceedings deferred for a year. The decision was taken after five witnesses left the country.

In an editorial about the case, a Pakistan newspaper, the Tribune, said: “Given the time lag, it is unlikely that anyone will ever be convicted for what happened in Gojra ... If those killed are non-Muslims, the killers are sure to walk free.”

The suspects belong to a sectarian organisation with links to Al-Qaeda. The Tribune recalled other cases in which the accused was connected to Al-Qaeda; it said witnesses have pulled out because of fear of being killed and judges have complained that they are not protected against threats.

The paper called for change to the country’s Anti-Terrorism Act to provide effective protection for judges and witnesses.

Barnabas Aid sent aid to the victims of the Gojra riots, which devastated the Christian community. Minhas Hameed’s 75-year-old father was the first to be killed when he was shot in the head. The rest of the family stayed in the house as Hameed rushed his father to hospital. Six other members were burned to death as the mob torched dozens of houses in the settlement.

Two days before Gojra was attacked, around 50 Christian homes were destroyed by Muslims in the nearby village of Korian, leaving more than a quarter of the Christian residents homeless. This incident was also linked to the Quran-burning blasphemy allegation.

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