A Muslim crowd attacked a Christian community in eastern Pakistan on Wednesday, vandalizing multiple churches and torching scores of homes after accusing two of its members of desecrating the Koran, according to police and community officials.
The attack occurred in Jaranwala, Faisalabad’s industrial neighborhood, according Pakistani police spokesman Naveed Ahmad. He stated the two Christians were accused of blasphemy and that they and their families had fled their houses.
Resident Shakil Masih said he heard announcements inciting the mob and then saw crowds heading towards his Christian area.
“I left my home immediately with my family. Several other families did the same,” he told Reuters.
The area has been cordoned off as police negotiated with the crowd, provincial police chief Usman Anwar told English Dawn.com online publication.
The police case against the two Christians is that they found pages of the Koran with some derogatory remarks written in red.
Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan and though no one has ever been executed for it, numerous accused people have been lynched by outraged crowds.
A former provincial governor and a minister for minorities have also been shot dead because of blasphemy accusations.
Rights groups say accusations of blasphemy are also misused to settle scores. Hundreds of people are languishing in prison after being accused as judges often put off trials, fearing retribution if they are seen as being too lenient, they say.
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwar ul Haq Kakar called for stern action against those responsible for Wednesday’s violence. “I am gutted by the visuals coming out,” he said.
Hundreds of people blocked a nearby highway to protest against the alleged desecration of the Koran.
A Christian leader, Akmal Bhatti, said the crowd had “torched” at least five churches and looted valuables from houses that had been abandoned by their owners.
Several social media posts showed some churches, houses and belongings on fire as police stood by.
The mob was made up of thousands of people led by local clerics, mainly from an Islamist political party called Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), a government source said.
The TLP, however, denied inciting the violence and said it had worked with police to try to calm things down.