Islamabad: Pakistan Supreme Court on Monday pulled up the Punjab government and police officials for failing to prevent an attack on a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore, saying there was "a total retreat by the state" when a mob of thousands ransacked and torched over 100 houses.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry took suo moto notice of Saturday?s attack on Joseph Colony in Lahore that left scores of Christian families homeless.
A mob of over 3,000 attacked the neighbourhood after a Muslim man accused a Christian of insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh, a member of the bench, observed that the mob went on the rampage "right under the nose of Punjab Police and there was total inaction".
He remarked: "There was a total retreat by the state. Referring to another attack on Christians at Gojra in Punjab that left nine people dead in 2009, Sheikh said the police remained silent spectators whenever minorities were attacked in the province.
The bench rejected a report on Saturday?s incident submitted by acting Punjab Police chief Khan Baig and asked him why police officials had ordered Christians to vacate Joseph Colony after Savan Masih, a Christian sanitation worker, was accused of blasphemy by a Muslim man last week.
The Chief Justice told Baig that police had not dug out the real reasons behind the attack. He also expressed his displeasure over Punjab Advocate General Ashtar Ausaf`s report that focused on the payment of compensation to the victims of the violence.
"We have to see the reasons behind the incident. If anyone has committed an offence, the law is there. But what about the riot and arson? Where is your writ? You have to protect lives, honour and properties of citizens under the Constitution," he said.
The bench said there was nothing substantial in reports submitted by the officials.
Addressing the Punjab Police chief, the Chief Justice said the court would not accept "blank reports".
The bench observed that it appeared the police were told at the "highest level" not to take action when the violence erupted.
The bench disputed the contention of police officials that the decision to ask the Christians to vacate the neighbourhood was made by local authorities.
Justice Sheikh observed that whenever there is unrest, you will ask people to vacate the area as you are unable to protect them.
"The people of Punjab are not safe in the hands of Punjab Police," Sheikh said. The Chief Justice said the incident had brought a bad name to Pakistan across the world.
"You people do not realise the international community`s reaction. Civilised society has to take extra precautionary measures to protect its status," he said.
The bench questioned whether police officials had investigated a cleric who had instigated the mob. It asked the officials to submit fresh reports on the incident and adjourned the case till March 13.
Police in Lahore have detained over 160 suspects for the attack on the Christian neighbourhood.
Fourteen suspects were remanded to police custody by an anti-terrorism court while the 21 others were sent to jail for a week.