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Over 100 Arrested in Pakistan after Churches and Homes Burned

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More than a hundred people were arrested in an east Pakistani city after thousands of Muslims burnt churches and vandalised homes. The claims that two Christian men tore pages from the Quran triggered violence in Jaranwala.

On Thursday, one day after the riot, the historic Salvation Army Church was still smouldering. As the situation in the city remains severe, ruins have been ringed by barbed wire.

Public meetings have also been prohibited in the Faisalabad district, which encompasses Jaranwala, for seven days. The two men suspected of causing damage to the Quran, Islam’s holy book, have been charged with blasphemy, a capital offence in Pakistan.

Even though Pakistan has yet to execute anyone for blasphemy, a simple charge can spark large protests, often resulting to lynchings and murders.

According to a local official, authorities got complaints about protests and fires early Wednesday morning, following rumours about the destruction of the Quran throughout the city and on social media.

Over 100 Arrested in Pakistan after Churches Burned

Authorities reported finding shredded pages of the sacred text with profane material scrawled on them in red marker writing near a Christian neighbourhood.

The reports infuriated the Muslim community, and the ensuing unrest saw mobs attack and loot private homes belonging to Christians. According to police, belongings belonging to Christians were dragged into the streets and set on fire.

Yassir Bhatti, a 31-year-old Christian, was among those who had to evacuate their houses.

“They broke the windows and doors and took out fridges, sofas, chairs, and other household items to pile up in front of the Church to be burned,” he told the BBC.

“They also burnt and desecrated Bibles, and they were ruthless.”

Social media videos show demonstrators damaging Christian structures while police stand by. “They burned everything,” a local priest, Pastor Javed Bhatti, told the BBC. They destroyed our homes, including God’s house.”

Sonam, another woman, fled with her three children immediately before the onslaught. “We just left without any dressing,” she explained. “We just picked up our small children and ran.”

Over 100 Arrested in Pakistan after Churches Burned

The BBC asked Usman Anwar, the police chief in Punjab province, why, according to some eyewitness accounts, the police did not appear to try to halt the protestors.

He stated that law enforcement did not want to exacerbate the tension for fear of losing lives.

He also verified the arrest of approximately 120 people in connection with the incident. Police tracked them down using social media videos.

According to the police chief, five cases have been filed against hundreds of persons suspected of being involved in the violence. More arrests are likely after the identification procedure is complete.

A Sri Lankan man convicted of blasphemy was slain by an agitated mob and his body was burned on fire two years ago. In 2009, a mob burned down over 60 homes and killed six persons in Punjab’s Gorja area after accusing them of disrespecting Islam.

In the nineteenth century, Pakistan inherited the British blasphemy law. Islamabad imposed harsher sanctions, including the death penalty, for offending Islam in the 1980s.

Muslims make up around 96% of Pakistan’s population. Other countries, such as Iran, Brunei, and Mauritania, also have the death penalty for insulting religion.

Over 100 Arrested in Pakistan after Churches Burned

Religion-fueled violence has increased in Pakistan since the country made blasphemy punishable by death, according to Iftekharul Bashar, a researcher at the think-tank RSIS who focuses on political and religious violence in South Asia.

“Increased fragmentation in Pakistani society has resulted from widening economic disparities, leading to an increase in violence directed at minority religious groups,” Mr Bashar said.

“The emergence of extremist and vigilante factions within Pakistan, some of which have significant financial backing, has also aided this troubled trend.”

Amir Mir, Punjab province’s communications minister, condemned the new alleged blasphemy and claimed in a statement that thousands of police had been dispatched to the region, with scores of people detained.

According to a government source, the irate group was largely made up of members of the Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). The TLP has categorically denied any involvement.

Anwar ul-Haq Kakar, the caretaker prime minister, has urged for prompt punishment against those guilty for the violence.

In the adjoining city of Lahore, Pakistani bishop Azad Marshall said the Christian community was “deeply pained and distressed” by the events.

“We cry out for justice and action from law enforcement and those who dispense justice, as well as the safety of all citizens to intervene immediately and assure us that our lives are valuable in our own homeland,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The CTNNews editorial team comprises seasoned journalists and writers dedicated to delivering accurate, timely news coverage. They possess a deep understanding of current events, ensuring insightful analysis. With their expertise, the team crafts compelling stories that resonate with readers, keeping them informed on global happenings.

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