Over 100 People Arrested, Churches Burned In Pakistan: Over 100 people have been arrested in Pakistan for allegedly desecrating a copy of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, and destroying at least 21 churches and vandalizing dozens of homes in Pakistan’s Punjab region.
Thousands of Muslims led violent riots, burning churches and vandalizing homes, in a Christian colony in the city of Jaranwala on Wednesday. The unrest was ignited by claims that pages were torn from a Quran and blasphemous content was scribbled on them.
Police arrived at the scene about 10 hours later, residents and community leaders told Reuters, which said the police have denied that, saying they prevented even worse damage. Usman Anwar, the police chief in Punjab province, was quoted as saying that the lack of intervention was aimed at avoiding loss of lives by not escalating tension.
Police have arrested at least 128 people for vandalizing churches, the newswire added.
According to UCA News, Catholic bishops have called for harsh punishment against people who set fire to 21 churches, including the ancient Salvation Army Church, and destroyed Christian homes.
According to the BBC, the Christian men wrongly accused of shredding pages from a Quran, Rocky Masih and Raja Masih, have also been arrested and are being investigated for blasphemy, a felony punishable by death in Pakistan. Although no one has been executed in the country for blasphemy, just accusations can spark large-scale riots, lynchings, and massacres.
Public gatherings have been restricted for a week in Faisalabad district, including Jaranwala, in a bid to maintain control over the situation.
Videos on social media show protesters destroying Christian buildings as the police appear to watch without intervening.
Yassir Bhatti, a 31-year-old Christian who had to flee his home, told AFP, “They broke the windows, doors, and took out fridges, sofas, chairs, and other household items to be burned.”
The incident erupted after claims of finding torn pages of a Quran, allegedly discovered near the Christian colony with alleged blasphemous content, were taken to a local religious leader who urged Muslims to protest.
Extremist slogans in favor of the far-right Islamic extremist political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik and the Islamic group Khatam-e-Nabuwat were raised by local mobs. Pakistan is expected to hold general elections in the coming months.
“We have once again been confronted with open hatred and uncontrollable rage shown towards the Christian community,” Archbishop Benny Travas of Karachi said in a statement, according to Crux.
Travas underlined that the allegations of blasphemy had “yet to be determined.”
“I just cannot comprehend how my people would show disrespect to any religion or to any religious books,” he continued. “We, as a Christian community, have time and again displayed our fidelity to the nation of Pakistan, yet incidents like the burning of Christian homes in Gojra, Shantinagar, Joseph Colony, and now Jaranwala, show that we are in reality second-class citizens who can be terrorized and frightened at will.”
Pakistan has seen religious-fueled violence in recent years, with blasphemy allegations leading to mobs killing accused individuals. Rights groups have criticized Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, citing misuse for personal gain.
The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2023 and the National Commission for Minorities Bill 2023 have raised concerns among Christian and civil society groups.
The ban against blasphemy was expanded in the 1980s under military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. High-profile cases, such as Salman Taseer’s assassination in 2011 and Asia Bibi’s acquittal in 2018, have brought international attention to the issue.
The recent passage of two bills has sparked protests and threats against the Supreme Court justices responsible for setting her free.