Ealier, it was reported that churches were burnt down in Pakistan. Conaequent upon the Pakistan Church burniung, over 100 people have been arrested 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.
Pakistani Christians Hold Sunday Services at Churches Earlier Burnt by Mob In Pakistan
Following the reckless burning of churches in Pakistan, Christians went ahead to hold Sunday Service in the vandalized church.
The services at a handful of churches in the city of Jaranwala in eastern Pakistan were led by the bishop of the diocese, Christian community leader Akmal Bhatti said. He attended one of the services, which drew hundreds of Christians whose homes were partly or completely destroyed when the mob burnt and looted them on Wednesday.
The pastors later distributed food rations to those affected, Bhatti said.
The provincial government said in a statement on Sunday that compensation of two million rupee ($6,751.05) has been approved for each of the affected families.
Paramilitary troops have been guarding the sites of the arson attacks in Jaranwala in Punjab province. The sites attacked included the historic Salvation Army Church and Saint Paul Catholic Church, three smaller churches and scores of houses.
A Christian graveyard was also desecrated, residents and community leaders said, adding that the mob armed with iron rods, sticks, bricks, knife and daggers went on the rampage without any intervention by police and administration authorities who were present there for over 10 hours.
Police have denied this, saying it prevented a worse situation.
Clerics from an outlawed Islamist political party – Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) – led the campaign which resulted in the violence, according to residents and government sources.
The TLP denied this, saying it had joined the police in calming down the situation.
Police have arrested the two Christian men accused of the blasphemy, and are investigating them, and said they have rounded up nearly 160 people involved in the mob attack.
Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan but no one has ever been executed. Numerous people accused of blasphemy have been lynched by outraged mobs in the past. A former provincial governor and a minister for minorities were shot dead for trying to reform the blasphemy law.