Christian churches, homes, and a cemetery are destroyed by Muslim mobs in Pakistan.
After the holy Quran was purportedly desecrated, hundreds of protesters attacked churches in Jaranwala with batons and clubs.
At least two churches were stormed by armed Muslim mobs after two Christians were accused of blasphemy in the town of Jaranwala in the state of Punjab.
Hundreds of people, some with batons and sticks, were seen in videos posted to social media destroying churches and setting them on fire. One mob targeted religious buildings, while another targeted private residences, burning them down and shattering windows.
Punjab province police inspector Mohammed Naved said that officials in Jaranwala, which is 71 miles (115 kilometers) from Lahore, the provincial capital, were trying their utmost to calm the crowd.
After telling Al Jazeera, “We are undertaking all legal measures as required in the situation,” Naved reaffirmed.
Two local Christians were also reported to the police for violating Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
Amir Mir, Punjab’s temporary information minister, reported later on Wednesday that over a hundred people had been detained.
There has been a deployment of paramilitary Rangers “in connection with the religious conflict and sensitive situation of law and order at Tehsil Jaranwala District, Faisalabad,” as stated in a government announcement.
Torn pages of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, with allegedly obscene language scrawled on them were found near the Christian colony, sparking the dispute.
A local religious leader was seen on the pages and allegedly called for protests and the arrest of the perpetrators.
Jaranwala resident and mobile store owner Shahid Mehmood told Al Jazeera, “I reached my shop around 10 a.m., and there were already hundreds of people gathered outside the church. Mehmood’s shop is located roughly 50 meters from the Salvation Army Church. I opened; however, the circumstances forced me to close about 10 minutes later.
Mehmood elaborated by saying that the Christian colony in the area around the church also attracted a large population. Later, he added, it was assaulted, and several of the smaller churches were destroyed.
Akmal Bhatti, head of the Minorities Alliance of Pakistan, strongly denounced the act, saying the enraged crowd justified the arson by citing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
A lawyer named Bhatti said that around 150 families had lived in the Christian colony next to the Salvation Army Church before the women and children fled as the situation deteriorated.
He told Al Jazeera that residents of Jaranwala have begun fleeing the area in search of safety in neighboring villages or Faisalabad, a city located some 24 miles away.
Words fail me as I write this. We, Bishops, Priests and lay people are deeply pained and distressed at the Jaranwala incident in the Faisalabad District in Pakistan. A church building is being burnt as I type this message. Bibles have been desecrated and Christians have been tortured and harrased having been falsely accused of violating the Holy Quran. We cry out for justice and action from law enforcement and those who dispense justice and the safety of all citizens to intervene immediately and assure us that our lives are valuable in our own homeland that has just celebrated independence and freedom.
In Pakistan, allegations of blasphemy can spark widespread violence.
A lecturer was recently murdered in Turbat, a city in the southern province of Balochistan, on accusations of blasphemy. An irate crowd in the remote area of Nankana abducted a defendant from his prison cell and lynched him in February of this year for allegedly desecrating pages of the Quran.
Human rights organizations have reported widespread arbitrary use of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
More than two thousand people have been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan since 1987, and at least eighty-eight people have been executed on these claims, according to data collated by the Centre for Social Justice, an independent NGO campaigning for the rights of minorities.
From Al Jazeera English