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Pakistan: Mob attacks churches over alleged blasphemy

August 16, 2023

A crowd has attacked a Christian district in eastern Pakistan, vandalizing churches and setting fire to scores of houses. The mob accused two members of the community of desecrating the Quran.

A police officer pours water into a burning house in a Christian neighborhood following an angry mob attack in Jaranwala
According to videos posted to social media, local Muslim leaders used mosque loudspeakers to urge their followers to protestImage: AP/picture alliance

A rampaging mob set alight several churches and scores of homes on Wednesday in a predominantly Christian area of the Pakistani city of Faisalabad.

Officials said the attack, in Jaranwala town, was triggered by a group of Muslim religious extremists who accused a local Christian family of desecrating the Quran.

What we know so far

Christian leader Akmal Bhatti said the crowd set fire to at least five churches and looted valuables from abandoned houses after clerics made announcements in mosques to incite them.

Hundreds of people armed with sticks and rocks stormed churches belonging to various denominations.

Provincial police chief Usman Anwar told the online media outlet Dawn that officers cordoned off the area as police tried to negotiate with the crowd. Police also said they were registering cases against those who desecrated the Quran.

"Priests and lay people are deeply pained and distressed," said Pakistani bishop Azad Marshall, in the neighboring city of Lahore.

"We cry out for justice and action from law enforcement and those who dispense justice," Marshall said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

In response, Pakistan's newly appointed caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar ul Haq Kakar said he was "gutted by the visuals coming out of Jaranwala" and promised "stern action."

"All law enforcement has been asked to apprehend culprits and bring them to justice," said the prime minister. "Rest assured that the government of Pakistan stands with our citizenry on equal basis."

How is blasphemy dealt with in Pakistan?

Blasphemy — where the accused are deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures — is punishable by death in Pakistan. While no one has ever been executed for it, there are cases of angry crowds lynching accused individuals.

Hundreds are in prison facing blasphemy charges, with judges often postponing trials for fear of retribution if they are deemed too lenient.

According to rights groups, accusations of blasphemy are sometimes used as a means of settling scores.

rc/nm (AFP, Reuters, AP)