Updated: August 21, 2021 12:30:35 pm
A member of the banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), who vandalised a nine-feet tall bronze statue of the first ruler of the Sikh Empire Maharaja Ranjit Singh, walked free after a local court granted him bail on Friday.
The statue was vandalised on Tuesday by the 22-year-old activist of the banned TLP at the Lahore Fort in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
“As the offences mentioned in the FIR were bailable in nature, the judicial magistrate on Friday granted post-arrest bail to Mohammad Rizwan against furnishing the bail bonds worth Pakistani rupees 50,000,” a court official told PTI.
He said the law officer opposed the bail, arguing that the activist had defamed the country and therefore should not be given bail.
“But the defence lawyer argued that all sections mentioned in the FIR are bailable offences…thus the magistrate granted the bail to 22-year-old worker of TLP,” he said.
Rizwan was booked under sections 295 and 427 of the Pakistan Penal Code.
It was the third time when the statue of Ranjit Singh was vandalised since its unveiling at the Lahore Fort in June 2019 to commemorate the ruler’s 180th death anniversary.
This time the religious activist pulled down the statue from the horse. A video of the act went viral in which the vandal can be heard shouting slogans while smashing the statue.
Security guards had arrested Rizwan on the spot. Police said the suspect had used a hammer to inflict damage on the statue.
India slammed the act of vandalism, saying Pakistan has completely failed in its duty to prevent such attacks which are creating a “climate of fear” among the minority communities.
India’s External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said incidents of violence against minority communities, including attacks on their places of worship, their cultural heritage, as well as their private property, were increasing at an “alarming rate” in Pakistan.
“We have seen disturbing reports in the media about the vandalisation of the statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Lahore today. This is the third such incident wherein the statue has been vandalised, since it was unveiled in 2019,” Bagchi said.
“Such attacks on the cultural heritage of minority communities in Pakistan highlight the growing intolerance and lack of respect for minority communities in Pakistani society,” he said.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has ordered restoration of the statue to its original form.
The Lahore Fort administration had beefed up security following the previous two attacks, but the TLP worker managed to vandalise the statue in the presence of the security guards who later overpowered him.
In June 2019, Ranjit Singh’s statue was unveiled in a colourful ceremony in which several Sikh delegates from India, Pakistan and other countries had participated.
The event was organised by Bobby Singh Bansal, from the UK, in collaboration with the Walled City of Lahore Authority.
The statue, made of cold bronze, shows the regal Sikh emperor sitting on a horse, sword in hand, complete in Sikh attire.
Sculpted by local artists, under the aegis of the Fakir Khana Museum, the statue is meant to invoke the feeling of the emperor being present, with its real-life proportions, and was unveiled on his 180th death anniversary. Ranjit Singh passed away in 1839.
“The project was meant to commemorate the 180th death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and to forge a lasting friendship amongst the people of Punjab,” Bansal had said.
His organisation SK Foundation UK commissioned the statue in 2016. “We donated it to the people of Pakistan to promote Sikh heritage and tourism here,” he had said.
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