Murder of Nazir Masih by mob in mujahid colony, Sargodha

May 25th, 2024 black day for Pakistani Christian community: According to the media facts on 25 May 2024 at around 7:00 am a 73 year old Christian Lazar Gill alias Nazir, resident of Mujahid colony in Sargodha, Pakistan was found burning pages of the Holy Quran in front of his small shoe factory.

The news of the defiling of the Holy Quran spread like wildfire in the small town, some believers took to the social media to summon the faithful Muslims to the place of occurrence to perform their religious duty in punishing the Christian blasphemer. Witnessing a lot of commotion in the area many Christian families residing in the same colony started fleeing their homes in fear of a potential mob attack. As the mob was getting bigger and bigger, someone from the crowd took the responsibility of antagonizing the mob in attacking the accused Christian, who was held hostage by the angry mob. The charged mob brutally tortured Lazar Gill with stones and bricks; his small shoe factory was looted and set on fire.

When the police arrived after 30 minutes, the violent mob was trying to break into his house where his family of 9 individuals; including children were trapped. After hours of heavy shelling of tear gas police was able to rescue the family. The mob forbade the fire department to extinguish the fire and chanted slogans to lynch the blasphemer.

After much struggle and force, police was able to put the unconscious Lazar Gill, who was soaked in blood into the ambulance. The mob held the ambulance driver hostage abstaining the ambulance from moving. The mob refused to give in and continued to pelt stones and bricks at the ambulance breaking all its windows. One of the police force officers Tahir Bilal showed courage and used his car key to start the ambulance and was able to get the injured to the nearest CMH hospital. According to the police sources, eleven policemen were injured in the rescue efforts.

Meeting with the District Police Officer:

CLAAS was informed of the incident by some local youth, on hearing the news CLAAS left for Sargodha to conduct a fact-finding and assess how to assist the survivors. CLAAS team reached Sargodha at 7 pm and went straight to the DPO Asad Malhi’s office.

The team was informed that he was in a meeting with the Interfaith Commission for Peace & Harmony. As soon as the ICPH delegation left the Christian senator Mr. Khalil Tahir Sandhu along with Rawalpindi Catholic Bishop and other clergy met with the DPO, CLAAS team also joined the meeting. In his brief, the DPO Mr. Asad Ijaz Malhi said that heavy police force had to be deployed to control the violent crowd and rescue the accused Lazar Gill, and ten of his family members. When asked about the accused, the DPO said he was immediately shifted to a hospital and was under special medical care. Regarding his family, he said they were

in protective custody. The CLAAS team asked the DPO if any FIR was lodged against the accused or the attackers, and if the police will further investigate the alleged blasphemy accusations before lodging a formal FIR. The DPO took a defensive stance and avoided giving any direct answers, he said that soon he will have all stakeholders sit at a table, and with mutual dialogues, a strategy will be formulated to handle any future incidents in the area, he reiterated that the situation was peaceful in the area and Christians are safe including the alleged accused and his family members.

Meeting with the accused relative:

After the briefing with the DPO CLAAS team went to meet with a relative of the accused to get the facts related to the incident. Sonia told the team that Mr. Lazar Gill was the head of the Gill family; he had spent most of his life in Dubai and was financially very stable. He and his son Sultan owned a small-scale shoe factory, situated near their house and his business was providing employment to many in the area.

Three days before the incident Lazar Gill had a dispute with two of his Muslim neighbours, Mohammad Akram (an active member of TLP) and Mohammad Irfan Ayub (owner of a dairy farm). These neighbours posted an objectionable cropped picture on social media, of his 22 year old grandson Ajmal Gill holding a firearm, when Lazar and his family found out this; they filed a complaint in the Urban City police station against the two Mohammad Akram and Mohammad Irfan Ayub. The matter was resolved between the two parties through police mediation and the picture of Ajmal was deleted from the social media.

According to Sonia, on the day of the incident, Lazar woke up early and went straight to open his shoe factory. He found some burnt papers in front of the main entrance, thinking it was trash, he mopped the papers and was just putting them in a bin when Muhammad Jahangir (a local city councilor and a property dealer), Mohammad Akram, and Mohammad Irfan Ayub (with whom Lazar had a dispute) came and started shouting, using foul language alleging Lazar of burning those papers. Lazar told them that he was unaware that it was the pages of the Holy Quran. They refused to accept his clarifications and continued to make phone calls informing their friends alleging Lazar of defiling Quran. They shared the news of the alleged blasphemy on the social media asking people to assemble in the Mujahid Colony. According to Sonia, it was not until 9 am that the police arrived but the crowd was too large to be controlled by few policemen. By that time the crowd had already set ablaze Lazar’s shoe factory. The crowd obstructed the fire brigade men to extinguish the fire; they refused to hand over Lazar to the police and said they would lynch the blasphemer. Police were unable to rescue Lazar from the merciless crowd, who was beating him with bricks, stones, fists, batons. At 10 am more police got to the site and used tear gas to disperse the violent crowd and rescued Lazar and his family. By 11am everything was under control, heavy police force was deputed in the area and Mujahid colony was sealed for any public visit. The accused Lazar Gill alias Nazir Gill was taken to CMH hospital and late night on 27th May 2024 he was shifted to Rawalpindi CMH hospital where he was in critical condition. His family members remain in police protective custody at unknown place. No information has been released on the condition of the accused. There were rumors circulating that he might have expired but we were unable to confirm it. As soon as the CLAAS team left Sargodha at 10 PM, we found out that an FIR # 425/24 was lodged against Lazar alias Nazir Gill in the Urban City Police station, under blasphemy laws section 295A, 295B of Pakistan Penal Code and Anti-Terrorist Act 1997 section 9 has been added. The FIR report was lodged at 8:30 AM on 25 May 2024 on the complaint of Mohammad Jahangir (the city councilor and property dealer).Another FIR # 426/24 for vandalism of personal property, arson attack, trespassing, and attempted murder was also lodged in the Urban City police station, against 44 nominated and 450 unknown perpetrators. The complainant in this FIR is the Station House Officer (SHO) Shahid Iqbal. This FIR was lodged at 2:15 PM. The City administration has also imposed section 144 for the next seven days (till 31st May 2024) forbidding any assembly, congregation, or gathering of people in the city.

On 29th Wednesday 2024 CLAAS along with Joint Action Committee held a press conference and later staged a peaceful protest against the inability of the law enforcement agencies in controlling the violent mob. CLAAS also wrote letters to Chief Minister Punjab Maryam Nawaz Sharif, Governor Punjab Sardar Saleem Haider and Law Minister Mr. Azam Nazeer Tarar asking them to personal and direct action of the Srgodha incident and ensure safety of the accused and his family.

CLAAS further demanded the government to play its role in protecting the lives and properties of its citizens, and all those responsible for these insane acts of violence must be held accountable. We demand that the government conduct an impartial investigation of the accounts leading to mob violence in Sargodha and the attempted lynching of Nazir Gill. We further demand the dismissal of the FIR against the victim who is fighting for his life in the Intensive Care Unit in Rawalpindi and shall also be compensated for the loss of his property.

Reported By: CLAAS Legal Department
Dated: 27th May, 2024