Police were accused of intimidation and lax investigations.
Police harassment of complainants and witnesses, officers deliberately arresting innocent bystanders instead of known assailants, and Christian leaders’ failure to ensure proper investigation and legal cases have resulted in most suspects walking free on bail, said former Jaranwala councilor Shakeel Bhatti.
Bhatti, the critical force behind 17 Christian complainants who filed cases against those who looted and burned properties, said most suspects in five cases registered by the government had been granted bail due to an ineffective police investigation. Those bails also benefited the suspects in the 17 privately filed instances as the same Joint Investigative Teams (JIT) probed all the First Information Reports (FIRs), he said.
Muslim mobs set fire to more than 20 churches. They ransacked a large number of Christian homes and businesses in August 1616 in Jaranwala Tehsil of the Faisalabad District, Punjab Province, at the urging of mosque leaders. Two Christian brothers had allegedly desecrated Quranic pages and written blasphemous remarks.
Though 600–800 unidentified suspects were implicated in 22 terrorism cases—five registered by the state and 17 by local Christians—church sources said only 283 suspects were arrested. The government registered five FIRs under sections against terrorism, blasphemy, attempted murder, arson, hate speech, and others on the day of the attacks. At the same time, 17 Christians filed private FIRs on similar August 21.
Most of the suspects, however, have been released on bail or discharged from the cases due to “defective” investigation by police, “unsubstantiated nomination” of suspects by some Christian complainants, and lackluster attitudes of senior Christian leaders, sources said.
Bhatti said that of the 281 bail applications filed in the Faisalabad anti-terrorism court, 223 were approved and 45 were denied, with 13 still pending.
The senior officers of the Faisalabad Police who make up the 10 JITs appear to lack the commitment to punish the perpetrators of the August 16 attacks, said Akmal Bhatti, a Faisalabad-based lawyer and chairman of the Minorities Alliance Pakistan (MAP).
He said rights advocates were expecting the JITs to conduct a professional investigation at least in the five cases registered by the government.
Blaming defective investigation for the granting of bail to the suspects, he said police did not bother to corroborate evidence that could prove their involvement, enabling them to obtain bail.
Police failed to provide the concrete evidence that courts needed to decide bail applications, he said.
“The state-registered FIRs nominated several hundred unidentified people armed with petrol bombs, batons, chemicals, etc. of being involved in the attacks, but the investigation reports fail to connect the acts with the detained suspects directly,” Akmal Bhatti said.
“The JITs have to date arrested 357 suspects and sent them into judicial custody,” Malik said. “These suspects were identified individually through video footage of the rioting, and all efforts were made to conduct solid investigations against them. Raids are being conducted to arrest the remaining suspects whenever we get information about them.”
He said police were sincerely fulfilling their responsibilities and that officers were not responsible for suspects obtaining their legal right to bail from courts.
At least ten suspects, however, secured bail based on affidavits from Christian complainants making statements in their favor under fear or pressure, said the lead lawyer for Christians True Spirit (CTS), a non-government organization providing legal aid.
Police played an adverse role in these cases, he said.
“They intimidated and humiliated the complainants and witnesses, deterring some from even identifying the detained suspects,” Hassan said. “The investigating officers did not share the official record with us despite repeated requests, and we could only access the reports when they were presented in the courtroom.”