A Christian community in eastern Pakistan was subjected to a violent assault on Wednesday, marred by the vandalisation of several churches and the destruction of numerous houses. The incident was triggered by accusations that two members of the Christian community had desecrated the Koran, leading to a surge of anger among Muslim residents. This shocking incident underscores the deep religious tensions and consequences of blasphemy accusations in the region.
The attack transpired in Jaranwala, located within the industrial district of Faisalabad. According to Naveed Ahmad, a spokesperson for the police, a Muslim crowd descended upon the Christian area, resulting in the damage of churches and the setting of houses ablaze. The two Christians accused of desecrating the Koran, along with their family members, had to flee their homes to escape the violence.
Shakil Masih, a resident of the affected community, recounted hearing inflammatory announcements that ignited the mob’s rage. Witnessing the crowd advancing toward the Christian area, he promptly left his home along with his family, as did several other families in the vicinity.
The police swiftly responded, cordoning off the area as negotiations commenced with the agitated crowd. Usman Anwar, the provincial police chief, stated that discussions were underway to manage the situation and prevent further escalation of violence.
The allegations against the two Christians centre on their purported discovery of pages from the Koran bearing derogatory comments written in red ink. Blasphemy carries severe penalties in Pakistan, including the possibility of death sentence. While no execution for blasphemy has occurred, the accusation has led to the lynching of numerous individuals by enraged mobs. Disturbingly, even high-profile figures like a former provincial governor and a minister for minorities have fallen victim to fatal attacks following blasphemy accusations.
Human rights groups have been critical of how blasphemy accusations are weaponised to settle personal vendettas. Scores of people languish in prison due to such accusations, with trials often postponed out of fear of retribution for perceived leniency.