A Punjab police report submitted to the Supreme Court on Monday admitted that policemen and their commanding officers had taken refuge in a nearby godown when ‘miscreants’ started pelting them with stones before setting ablaze the Christians’ houses at Joseph Colony in Lahore’s Badami Bagh area on March 9.
The court was stunned by the disclosure and observed that it was unfortunate that the culprits were free to do whatever they had done on that fateful day.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, is hearing a suo motu case over the mob attack on Badami Bagh in which 178 houses were burnt.
“We leave this to the police high-ups to ponder that when the police officers themselves take shelter in a godown, no one else is left to protect the life and property of the inhabitants of Joseph Colony,” the chief justice observed.
This failure was sufficient to prima facie conclude that fundamental rights of the citizens of the colony under articles 9 and 14 of the constitution had not been protected, a visibly disturbed court observed.
The report, submitted by Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Mohammad Amlash, suggested that gates of the Kandawala godown had been opened for the policemen to enter the premises. Superintendent of Police (SP) Multan Khan took refuge on the third floor of the godown while the DSP, SHO and other policemen closed the main gates. The police inaction led the unruly mob comprising 5,000 to 6,000 hooligans to return to the colony and torch the Christians’ quarters.
But SP Khan rejected the allegation in the court and said he was trying his best to persuade the reserved police, mainly comprising former servicemen, to come out of the godown and disperse the crowd which had earlier been subjected to baton-charge and teargas.
According to the report, SP (operations) Sohail Sukhera, SSP (investigations) Babar Bakht Qureshi, SP Cant Marood Safdar Wahla, SP Iqbal Town Imtiaz Sarwar, SP Civil Lines Dr Farukh Raza and DSPs and SHOs along with their forces reached the area at about 11.30am.
After their arrival, SP Multan Khan and his men came out of the godown, but by that time the damage had been done.
Disciplinary action had been taken against them and they were under suspension, the report said.
Mohammad Amlash, the CCPO, informed the court that on the basis of eyewitness account, Sawan Masih had been found guilty of blasphemy. He said the manhandling of Bishop Akram Gill was being investigated.
The report alleged that the businessmen of two rival groups — Aman and Ittehad — had aroused the feelings of Muslims, joined by labourers and also given the strike call.
Police have arrested 48 suspects and raids are being conducted to nab 67 main culprits.
Advocate General of Punjab Ashtar Ausaf informed the court that the colony had been vacated because of fear and charged atmosphere as well as at the request of the local SHO. But, he said, nothing solid had come on record to establish that the godown owners or any other group had set off the plan to occupy the colony land.
The incident of blasphemy, instigation by the business community, the presence of labour class mainly Pathans and the strike call were the main causes of the attack, he said. Referring to the absence of the inspector general of Punjab since Jan 1 this year, the court ordered the establishment secretary and the chief secretary to consult each other and take steps to appoint a suitable officer after due concurrence of the competent authority.