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Christian Brothers Acquitted of Blasphemy Charges Amid Jaranwala Riots Fallout

On Thursday, an anti-terrorism court in Faisalabad acquitted two Christian brothers, Umar Saleem (known as Rocky) and Umair Saleem (aka Raja), of blasphemy charges related to the Jaranwala riots in August 2023, according to a statement from Barnabas Aid, an organization representing Pakistan’s minority community.

The ATC judge, Muhammad Hussain, issued the acquittal in connection to the violent events that unfolded after the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran in Jaranwala town in Punjab’s Faisalabad district.

The charges against the brothers stemmed from a disturbing incident where a large mob vandalized and set fire to churches, attacked homes of Christian community members, and targeted the office of the local assistant commissioner. The tragic events on August 16, 2023, elicited shock nationwide, prompting caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar to condemn the violence and express concerns about ulterior motives behind the attacks on the minority community.

The police, in their investigation, had arrested a man named Yaseen, who allegedly used a mosque’s loudspeaker to incite the violent assault on Christian neighborhoods and churches. However, defense lawyer Tahir Bashir argued in court that the Saleem brothers were innocent, presenting a case devoid of evidence against them.

Sources revealed that the acquittal was granted due to a lack of substantial evidence. The charges brought against the brothers included sections 295-A (acts intended to outrage religious feelings), 295-B (defiling the Holy Quran), and 295-C (use of derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet) of the Pakistan Penal Code. Additionally, they faced charges under Section 9 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which deals with the prohibition of acts intended or likely to incite sectarian hatred.

This development in the legal proceedings offers relief to the Saleem brothers, emphasizing the importance of a thorough examination of evidence in cases with serious implications, such as blasphemy allegations, and underscores the broader issues of communal tensions and protection of minority rights in Pakistan.

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