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A mob in Pakistan burned a church and Christian homes after blasphemy accusations

In this photo provided by district police office, a police officer pours water into a burning house in a Christian neighborhood in Jaranwala, near Faisalabad, Pakistan, Wednesday. A mob burned a church and damaged at least four others, police and local Christians said. The mob also demolished a man's house after accusing him of desecrating Islam's holy book, and attacked other Christian homes. District Police Office via/AP

MULTAN, Pakistan — Angry Muslims went on a rampage Wednesday, attacking a Christian area in eastern Pakistan, burning a church and damaging at least four others, police and local Christians said. The mob also demolished a man's house after accusing him of desecrating Islam's holy book and attacked several other Christian homes.

The attacks in Jaranwala, in the district of Faisalabad in Punjab province, erupted after some Muslims living in the area claimed that a local Christian, Raja Amir, and his friend had torn out pages from a Quran, thrown them on the ground and written insulting remarks on others.

Members of Christian groups and others demonstrate in Karachi to condemn the attack on a Christian area by a Muslim mob in eastern Pakistan on Wednesday. Fareed Khan/AP

Police chief Rizwan Khan said this angered the local Muslims. A mob gathered and began attacking multiple churches and several Christian homes, burning furniture and other household items. Some members of the Christian community fled their homes to escape the mob.

Police eventually intervened, firing into the air and wielding batons before dispersing the attackers with the help of Muslim clerics and elders. Authorities also said they have started launching raids in an effort to find all the perpetrators.

There were no immediate reports of any casualties, and police have arrested dozens of rioters.

Videos and photos posted on social media show an angry mob descending upon a church, throwing pieces of bricks and burning it. In another video, two other churches are attacked, their windows broken as attackers throw furniture out and set it on fire.

In the videos, several policemen are seen watching the situation without intervening to stop the vandalism.

Khalid Mukhtar, a local priest, said most of the Christians living in the area had fled to safer places.

"Even my house was burned," he added. Mukhtar said there are 17 churches in Jaranwala; according to him, most of them were attacked.

Khan said additional police forces were later deployed to the area and an investigation was underway. He said all involved in the attack would be prosecuted. "Our first priority was to save the lives of all of the Christians," he said.

Later in the evening, troops started arriving in Jaranwala to help the police. Angry Muslims were urged to go back to their homes, allegedly with promises that the man who desecrated the Quran would soon be arrested.

A delegation of Muslim clerics also arrived in Jaranwala from the city of Lahore to express solidarity with the Christians.

Blasphemy accusations are common in Pakistan. Under the country's blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or Islamic religious figures can be sentenced to death. While authorities have yet to carry out a death sentence for blasphemy, often just the accusation can cause riots and incite mobs to violence, lynching and killings.

In one of the worst attacks on Christians, a mob in 2009 burned an estimated 60 homes and killed six Christians in the district of Gojra in Punjab, after accusing them of insulting Islam.

Wednesday's attack drew nationwide condemnation from top leaders and major political parties. Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said he was "gutted" by the images coming out of Faisalabad.

"Stern action would be taken against those who violate law and target minorities. All law enforcement has been asked to apprehend culprits & bring them to justice," he wrote on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

A senior Christian leader, Bishop Azad Marshall, appealed for help on social media and said he was "deeply pained and distressed."

"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," he posted on X.

Former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also condemned the rampage. "There is no place for violence in any religion."

In the southern port city of Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province, dozens of Christians rallied to denounce the attacks in Jaranwala.

Domestic and international human rights groups say blasphemy allegations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities in Pakistan and settle personal scores.

In December 2021, a Muslim mob descended on a sports equipment factory in Pakistan's Sialkot district, killing a Sri Lankan man and burning his body publicly over allegations of blasphemy.


(c) 2023, NPR

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