Angry crowd in Pakistan damages churches and sets homes on fire following blasphemy allegation

A Muslim mob attacked a Christian community in eastern Pakistan, vandalizing churches and setting houses on fire after accusing two members of desecrating the Koran, according to police and community leaders. The incident occurred in Jaranwala in the Faisalabad district. The accused Christians faced blasphemy allegations, causing them and their families to flee. Shakil Masih, a resident, reported hearing announcements that incited the mob, prompting many families to leave their homes.

Over 100 people were arrested following the attack, as announced by Punjab's caretaker information minister, Amir Mir. Video footage was being used to identify those who had attacked the churches. Police revealed that the accusations against the Christians involved pages of the Koran with derogatory remarks written in red.

In Pakistan, blasphemy is punishable by death, although no executions have occurred for this offense. However, many accused individuals have fallen victim to lynching by outraged crowds. Some high-profile figures, including a former provincial governor and a minister for minorities, have been killed over blasphemy allegations.

Rights groups point out that blasphemy accusations are sometimes employed to settle personal scores. Many accused individuals languish in prison due to delayed trials, as judges fear retribution for being perceived as lenient. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan noted an apparent increase in systematic, violent, and uncontrollable attacks in recent years. The group called for the establishment of specialized police forces to safeguard sites of worship for religious minorities, in accordance with a 2014 Supreme Court ruling.

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwar ul Haq Kakar strongly condemned the violence and called for strict action against the perpetrators. The United States expressed deep concern about the targeting of churches and homes, urging Pakistani authorities to thoroughly investigate the allegations and ensure calm prevails.

Akmal Bhatti, a Christian leader, reported that the mob had set fire to at least five churches and looted abandoned houses. Video footage showed individuals using sledgehammers to attack a church and ignite fires. The mob, comprising thousands of people and led by local clerics, was primarily associated with the Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP). The TLP denied responsibility for inciting the violence, claiming to have collaborated with the police to restore calm.

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