Pak Court remands 35 to custody for attacks against Christians



Lahore: A Pakistani anti-terrorism court on Monday remanded 35 persons to custody for their alleged role in the attack on a Christian neighbourhood in this eastern city even as missionary organisations closed their schools to protest the incident.

Police presented 35 suspects arrested in connection with Saturday's attack on Joseph Colony in the anti-terrorism court this afternoon. Fourteen suspects were remanded to judicial custody while the others were sent to jail.

The suspects were charged under various laws, including the Anti-Terrorism Act, for attempted murder, robbery, arson and terrorism, police officials said. More than 160 suspects have been arrested so far in connection with the attack that left hundreds of Christians homeless.

Police officials said the other suspects were being questioned and would be presented in court later. The suspects were identified from photographs and video footage of the attack.

A total of 83 suspects had been named in the FIR, police said. Christian organisations closed scores of missionary schools in Punjab and Sindh provinces to protest the torching of some 160 homes and two churches at Joseph Colony.

The Christian schools are among the best in Pakistan and are popular even with Muslims in cities and urban areas as they provide education in English.

"Missionary schools in Lahore will remain closed on Monday on account of the violence in Joseph Colony," Bishop Sebastian Shaw said.

Sadiq Daniel, bishop of the church of Pakistan in Sindh, said all missionary schools in the southern province would be closed on Monday.

Schools were also closed in cities and towns of southern Punjab that have a sizeable Christian population.

Policemen were deployed to guard churches and Christian neighbourhoods in several cities, including Multan and Quetta.

The trouble began on Friday after a Muslim man accused Savan Masih, a 26-year-old resident of Joseph Colony, of insulting the Prophet Mohammed. The next day, over 3,000 Muslims rampaged through the neighbourhood and looted homes before burning them.

There were no casualties as police had forced the Christians to vacate the neighbourhood but the incident triggered protests across the country.

Life was affected by the protests at some places on Sunday. Savan Masih was arrested under the controversial blasphemy law even though a senior police officer said a preliminary probe had shown that he was falsely accused.

Several residents of Joseph Colony and a police official told the media that Masih and Shahid Imran, the Muslim man who accused him of blasphemy, had an argument on Wednesday after getting drunk.

Local residents and Christian leaders said the men who attacked Joseph Colony were incited by traders and politicians who had been eyeing the land in the neighbourhood.

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan though rights groups say the blasphemy law is often used to persecute minorities like Christians and to settle personal scores.

Civil society groups and some politicians have called for reforms in the law, which includes the death penalty.

PTI