Brothers accused of sparking blasphemy riot against Christians in Pakistan last year released

In this file photo, taken on August 17, 2023, police officials and residents stand amid debris outside the torched Saint John Church in Jaranwala on the outskirts of Faisalabad, a day after an attack by Muslim men following spread allegations that Christians had desecrated the Qur'an. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 01 March 2024

Brothers accused of sparking blasphemy riot against Christians in Pakistan last year released

  • The brothers were detained on suspicion of defacing the Holy Qur’an in Jaranwala where a mob vandalized Churches
  • Christians make up around two percent of Pakistan’s population and occupy one of the lowest rungs in society

LAHORE: Two brothers accused of blasphemous acts that sparked a mob in Pakistan to ransack homes and churches in a Christian enclave last year have been freed from jail, their lawyer said Friday.
More than 80 Christian homes and 19 churches were vandalized by crowds in the eastern city of Jaranwala last August, after accusations spread that a Holy Qur’an had been desecrated.
Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam have provoked deadly vigilantism.
While police rounded up more than 125 suspected rioters, they also detained two Christian brothers on suspicion of having defaced a Holy Qur’an – a violation of Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws which can carry the death penalty.
But the brothers’ lawyer Tahir Bashir told AFP they had been freed after an anti-terror court declined to bring their case to trial on Thursday.
“Without a trial, no suspect can be detained indefinitely in jail,” Bashir said, declining to publicly name his clients out of fear for their safety.
“They are free, they are with their family. They were very happy to be released,” he added.
Hundreds of Christians fled Jaranwala’s Christian quarter last summer when rioters surged in, setting churches ablaze and raiding homes.
At its peak the crowd numbered around 5,000 and was spurred by mosque loudspeakers announcing a Holy Qur’an had been torn, scrawled with offensive words and stuck to the walls of a local mosque.
Christians, who make up around two percent of Pakistan’s population, occupy one of the lowest rungs in society and are frequently targeted with spurious blasphemy allegations.
Politicians have also been assassinated, lawyers murdered and students lynched over such accusations.
Last week, police were forced to intervene in the eastern city of Lahore when a woman wearing a shirt adorned with Arabic calligraphy was surrounded by a mob accusing her of blasphemy.
The crowd of men said the clothing depicted the Holy Qur’an but it was in fact emblazoned with the Arabic word for “beautiful.”
The woman issued an apology for causing offense, but none of the men were arrested.
Pakistan’s top Supreme Court judge has also been targeted by veiled death threats recently after ordering the release of a man accused of disseminating a blasphemous text.

‘It’s magnificent, it’s beautiful’: Visitors flock to northern Pakistan for ‘Blossom Festival’

Updated 5 sec ago

‘It’s magnificent, it’s beautiful’: Visitors flock to northern Pakistan for ‘Blossom Festival’

  • Festival organized for the first time to promote local and international tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan region
  • Area is home to thousands of apricot, cherry, apple and peach trees providing perfect backdrop to spring 

KHAPLU: Hundreds of people have gathered in Khaplu valley in Pakistan’s picturesque Gilgit-Baltistan region in the last few days for a ‘Blossom Festival’ organized for the first time to promote local and international tourism.

Home to five of the world’s 14 mountain summits of at least 5,000 metres, the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region is Pakistan’s only land link to China and at the heart of the $65 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure development program. Due to its geographic location and climate patterns, thousands of apricot, cherry, apple and peach trees are found in GB, with their beautiful colors offering the perfect backdrop to spring.

“We are holding this [Blossom] festival to celebrate the upcoming spring,” Rizwan Hussain, an assistant executive engineer at the GB Communication and Works department and a member of the event's organizing committee, told Arab News.

“The blossom festival is mainly in the Baltistan region and starts with cherry blossom as well as apricot blossom ... it’s mainly about celebrating the flowering of apricot and [other trees],” he added. “Mainly in Ghanche [district in GB], we are now celebrating apricot blossoms because cherry blossoms are very rare here."

The festival also featured sword dances and other cultural and musical performances, stalls of handicrafts and polo matches.

“Different festivals, different cultural shows have been organized as part of the celebration and they have their own significance,” Hussain added.

Iftikhar Ali, an assistant commissioner in Ghanche, told Arab News the festival “signified the arrival of spring.”

“This event is celebrated annually on a local scale. But this year the district administration with the support of associated departments has decided to organize the festival at a mega-level,” he added.

Visitors, both local and foreign, marveled at the beautiful colors and cultural shows organized as part of the festival. 

“April is the best time to be here,” said Tshering Digi, a Taiwanese tour guide who was visiting GB for the first time.

“We can see all the different fruits like apricots, the cherry blossom season. That’s why we are here … We see so many flowers blossoming and it’s really beautiful,” she told Arab News as she stood by an apricot tree planted in the garden of Khaplu Palace, an old fort and palace located in Khaplu, a city in Gilgit-Baltistan.

“We can see [blossoms] in our country also, but we found here that everywhere you go, every valley, riverside or village, all are blossoming with flowers, it’s magnificent, it’s beautiful.

“And the view is fantastic, you can see the magnificent Karakorum Mountain Range … you can see different flowers and colours that make everybody very happy. So I would recommend my Taiwanese people to visit here [Pakistan], especially to the northern part, to the Gilgit-Baltistan area.”

A local tourist who identified himself only by his first name Faizan said he was visiting with his parents, wife and children.

“We have come for the first time to the Skardu and Khaplu area,” Faizan told Arab News. “We are especially here to see spring blossoms ... we have seen cherry and apricot blossoms and seen really great colors in this area.”

Visitor Sidra was also in GB for the first time:

“Our experience was very good. We saw cherry blossoms … And definitely, we will recommend our friends and relatives to visit this region and observe its culture, enjoy its weather, especially in this season, and enjoy these spring blossoms.”

Pakistani charities say donations for Palestine have surpassed local causes since Oct. 7

Updated 25 min 4 sec ago

Pakistani charities say donations for Palestine have surpassed local causes since Oct. 7

  • Al-Khidmat Foundation says donations for Palestine have increased by about 60 percent
  • Baitussalam Welfare Trust also confirms its donations were now more for Palestinians 

KARACHI: Major Pakistani charities have said this week they have received more donations for humanitarian aid to Palestine than for charitable causes at home since the beginning of Israel’s war on Gaza on Oct. 7.

The ongoing Israeli air strikes and ground offensive have killed more than 33,000 Palestinians with tens of thousands more wounded, and many feared still trapped under the rubble of destroyed buildings and infrastructure. The majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced and international aid agencies and concerned nations have warned famine is imminent.

As the human toll of the war continues to rise, Pakistani charities say people in Pakistan have “overwhelmingly” supported their efforts to provide aid to Gazans. 

“The people are now contributing more for Palestine than the local cause as the flow of donations has increased by about 55-60 percent for the people of Palestine,” Syed Waqas Jafri, secretary-general of the Al-Khidmat Foundation Pakistan, one of Pakistan’s largest charities, told Arab News.

The Al-Khidmat Foundation Pakistan, which has an international footprint, distributes food stamps, runs orphanages, and does rehabilitation work during natural disasters in Pakistan.

Since Oct. 7, the organization, which was already working in Palestine through local and international partners, has expedited its efforts to collect donations and send humanitarian aid for the people of Palestine, Jafri said.

“As soon as we came to know that there is a humanitarian crisis on a large scale and the space we had in a given situation was only for food and medicine, so we worked with Pakistan’s NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) and Pakistan Air Force to send aid,” Jafri said.

“There have been five chartered flights and the sixth one is via a vessel which has 20 containers containing 300 tons of goods. So these six consignments have gone from Pakistan. The value of the goods sent to Palestine is about Rs1.6 billion ($5.7 million).”

The picture shared on February 6, 2024, shows Pakistani authorities loading boxes of humanitarian aid onto a plane in Islamabad, Pakistan, for the people of Palestine. (NDMA)

The organization has rented warehouses in Cairo and is now purchasing goods from the local market for delivery to the besieged Palestinian territory, Jafri said, adding that the need for tents had multiplied as roughly 90 percent of Gaza had been rendered inhabitable by the Israeli military actions.

The Baitussalam Welfare Trust (BWT), another non-profit organization working to provide relief to Palestinian refugees, confirmed donation inflows to the charity were now more for Palestine.

“The flow of donation is about 50-60 percent for Palestine while the number of donors has also increased in recent months,” Huzaifa Rafique, a BWT spokesman, told Arab News on Monday.

The BWT is operating in Palestine in coordination with Turkish government organizations and providing health care, education and emergency relief, Rafique said. 

“The Baitussalam Welfare Trust is operating bread plants, taking care of orphans, and providing ready food to the people in affected areas,” Rafique said.

BWT also distributed cash among Palestinian children during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday last week.

Saylani Welfare International, another large Pakistani charity, also said donations were coming in for Palestine, while people were also supporting local projects.

“The flow of funds for Palestine is about 5-10 percent, while the rest of the donations are coming for local projects,” Muhammad Ghazzal, SWI chief operating officer, told Arab News, adding that his organization had so far dispatched goods worth Rs200 million for the people of Palestine.

Ghazzal said the SWI was working with Turkish and Pakistani government entities, including the NDMA, to dispatch aid via Egypt and Turkiye.

“The goods dispatched to Palestine included food, medicine and tents,” he added.

Pakistan and IMF discussing new multi-billion-dollar program, finance minister says

Updated 16 April 2024

Pakistan and IMF discussing new multi-billion-dollar program, finance minister says

  • Muhammad Aurangzeb says Pakistan will at least be requesting for a three year program to help execute structural reform agenda
  • Government of PM Shehbaz Sharif tasked with engineering economic turnaround by implementing unpopular belt-tightening measures

Washington: Pakistan has initiated discussions with the IMF over a new multi-billion dollar loan agreement to support its economic reform program, its new finance minister told AFP on Monday.

The South Asian nation is nearing the end of a nine-month, $3 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund designed to tackle a balance-of-payments crisis which brought it to the brink of default last summer.

With the final $1.1 billion tranche of that deal likely to be approved later this month, Pakistan has begun negotiations for a new multi-year IMF loan program worth “billions” of dollars, Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb said during an interview in Washington.

“The market confidence, the market sentiment is in much, much better shape this fiscal year,” said Aurangzeb, a former banker who took up his post last month.

“It’s really for that purpose that, during the course of this week, we have initiated the discussion with the Fund to get into a larger and an extended program,” he added.

An IMF spokesperson told AFP that the Fund is “currently focused on the completion of the current Stand-by Agreement program,” referring to the ongoing nine-month program scheduled for completion shortly.

“The new government has expressed interest in a new program, and Fund staff stands ready to engage in initial discussions on a successor program,” the spokesperson added.

During his visit to Washington, Aurangzeb will also attend the spring meetings organized by the IMF and World Bank, which kick off in earnest Tuesday, with two clear objectives: to help countries combat climate change, and to assist the world’s most indebted nations.

The meetings — which bring central bankers together with finance and development ministers, academics, and representatives from the private sector and civil society to discuss the state of the global economy — will kick off with the IMF’s publication of its updated World Economic Outlook.

Pakistan held elections in February this year which were marred by allegations of rigging, with opposition leader Imran Khan jailed and barred from running, and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party subject to a crackdown.

The shaky coalition that emerged, led by Shehbaz Sharif, is now tasked with engineering an economic turnaround by implementing a raft of unpopular belt-tightening measures.

“I do think that we will at least be requesting for a three year program,” Aurangzeb said. “Because that’s what we need, as I see it, to help execute the structural reform agenda.”

“By the time we get to the second or third week of May, I do think we’ll start getting into the contours of that discussion,” he added.

Pakistan has close economic ties to both the United States and China, which has put it in a tricky position as the two countries have embarked upon a costly trade war.

“From our perspective it has to be an and-and discussion,” Aurangzeb said when asked how the Sharif government plans to conduct its trading relationships with the world’s two largest economies.

“[The] US is our largest trading partner, and it has always supported us, always helped us in terms of the investments,” he said. “So that is always going to be a very, very critical relationship for Pakistan.”

“On the other side, a lot of investment, especially in infrastructure, came through CPEC,” he said, referring to the roughly 1,860-mile long China-Pakistan Economic Corridor designed to give China access to the Arabian Sea.

Aurangzeb said there was an “very good opportunity” for Pakistan to play a similar role in the trade war as countries like Vietnam, which has been able to dramatically boost its exports to the US following the imposition of tariffs on some Chinese goods.

“We have already a few examples of that already working,” he said. “But what we need to do is to really scale it up.”

As part of the structural reform program agreed to by the previous government, Pakistan is in the middle of a privatization drive to sell off its poorly-performing state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

The first SOE on the list is Pakistan International Airlines, the country’s flag carrier.

“We will get to know in the next month or so with respect to interest from prospective bidders,” Aurangzeb said.

“Our desire is to go through with that privatization and take it through the finishing line by the end of June,” he added.

If the PIA privatization goes well for the government, other companies could soon follow.

“We’re creating an entire pipeline,” he said, adding: “Over the next couple of years we want to really accelerate that.”

Cop who thrashed woman on train in viral video cleared of mysterious death — Pakistan Railways

Updated 16 April 2024

Cop who thrashed woman on train in viral video cleared of mysterious death — Pakistan Railways

  • Beautician Maryam Bibi was traveling home to Punjab when she was allegedly beaten by a cop
  • Two days later, the woman’s body was discovered near the Chani Goth railway station in Punjab

KARACHI: A policeman, who was allegedly seen beating a woman on a train last week in videos that have since gone viral, has been cleared of her mysterious death, a Pakistan Railways spokesperson said on Monday about the latest incident in what rights activists say is a long series of episodes of police brutality in Pakistan. 

Maryam Bibi, who worked as a beautician in Karachi, left the southern port city to spend last week’s Eid holiday with her family in Jaranwala in the Punjab province via Millat Express on April 7. During the journey, the woman was subjected to torture by Constable Mir Hasan near Hyderabad, according to a video of the incident and media reports. Two days later, her body was discovered near the Chani Goth railway station in Punjab.

She was subsequently buried by her family who initially thought she died after falling off the train in an accident, but the video of her torture forced railways authorities to set up a fact-finding committee to investigate the death.

The committee concluded that Constable Mir Hasan was present in Hyderabad at the time of the incident and not involved in the murder, according to Pakistan Railways spokesperson Babar Raza.

An earlier press release by Railways said the police constable got involved after Maryam started scattering the belongings of other passengers and that the policeman was forced to move her to another compartment. Railways said he was on duty on the train from Karachi to Hyderabad, in Sindh province, while the woman’s body was later found in Punjab. The press release said she had jumped from the moving train near Channigoth station. 

“The call record, station attendance, and witnesses’ testimony confirmed that the constable was in Hyderabad when the woman fell or jumped from the train, and her body was found in the Multan division,” Raza told Arab News. 

The Railways’ earlier press release said the policeman was arrested once the video of him allegedly beating up the woman was posted online. He has been suspended from duty and was out on bail in the Hyderabad area.

On Monday, Pakistani media widely reported the victim’s nephew as saying the constable had objected to the woman reciting verses from the Holy Qur’an out aloud and subsequently beat her. The nephew alleged that the constable forcibly took the woman with him and pushed her from the train at the next station.

Amnesty International’s National Corruption Impact Assessment Report released last year said the police department was among the most corrupt in Pakistan, with a staggering 30 percent corruption rate. Rights bodies over the years have documented hundreds of cases of police brutality, especially police heavy handedness against political and civil rights protesters. 

Saudi FM in Islamabad, expected to meet top Pakistani officials in investment push

Updated 20 min 17 sec ago

Saudi FM in Islamabad, expected to meet top Pakistani officials in investment push

  • Saudi foreign minister’s visit comes a little over a week after Saudi crown prince met Pakistani PM in Makkah
  • Crown prince has reaffirmed commitment to expedite investment worth $5 billion that was previously discussed

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan is expected to meet the Pakistani prime minister and top investment officials today, Tuesday, after arriving in Islamabad a day earlier on a two-day visit aimed at enhancing bilateral economic cooperation and pushing forward previously agreed investment deals. 

The Saudi foreign minister’s visit comes a little over a week after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Makkah and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite investments worth $5 billion that were previously discussed.

The Pakistani foreign office has said the Saudi foreign minister is expected to hold meetings with the Pakistani PM, president and members of the apex committee of Pakistan’s Special Investment Facilitation Council, set up last year to oversee all foreign funding.

The Pakistani and Saudi foreign ministers will also address a joint press conference after a bilateral meeting scheduled for 4pm. 

“A week after Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s visit to Saudi Arabia (April 6-8), a high-level delegation of Saudi Arabia is coming to Pakistan,” the Pakistan information ministry said in a statement shared with journalists ahead of the FM’s arrival at the Noor Khan air base in the garrison town of Rawalpindi.

“The Saudi delegation will consult on the next stages of investment and implementation issues,” the statement added, saying Saudi Arabia’s planned investment in the Reko Diq gold and copper mining project would also be discussed during the visit.

On Sunday, Pakistani state media reported Saudi Arabia was likely to invest $1 billion in the mine project in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, one of the world’s largest underdeveloped copper-gold areas.

Riyadh was also interested in investing in agriculture, trade, energy, minerals, IT, transport and other sectors in Pakistan, the statement said.

“As a result of this visit, Pakistan’s export capacity will increase, joint ventures will be launched and new opportunities will be paved.”


Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.

Former diplomats and analysts said the latest visit showed a deepening of relations between the two brotherly countries.

“This is a high-powered Saudi delegation led by the foreign minister and it is purely focused on investments in Pakistan,” Javed Hafeez, a former Pakistani diplomat, told Arab News, pointing to a recent indication by Saudi Arabia that it would expedite a $5 billion investment package for Pakistan.

“This delegation will also be exploring different fields and options during the visit to materialize the investment pledges as quickly as possible.”

Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary, termed the visit “very significant,” saying the potential Saudi investment in Pakistan was a “welcoming step” in the Saudi-Pakistan friendship.

“The Saudi’s investments under the banner of the SIFC will be safe and secure, and this will help further deepen the ties between the two countries,” Chaudhry told Arab News.

Cash-strapped Pakistan desperately needs to shore up its foreign reserves and signal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it can continue to meet requirements for foreign financing that has been a key demand in previous bailout packages. Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, is currently in Washington to participate in spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and discuss a new bailout program. The last loan deal expires this month.

Saudi Arabia has often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid in the past, regularly providing it oil on deferred payments and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up its forex reserves.

Last year, however, Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said the Kingdom was changing the way it provides assistance to allies, shifting from previously giving direct grants and deposits unconditionally.

“We used to give direct grants and deposits without strings attached and we are changing that. We are working with multilateral institutions to actually say we need to see reforms,” Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said at the World Economic Forum in Davos last January.

“We are taxing our people, we are expecting also others to do the same, to do their efforts. We want to help but we want you also to do your part.”

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have increasingly moved toward investing rather than extending direct financial aid.