OAN’s Brooke Mallory
3:35 PM – Wednesday, August 16, 2023
According to government officials and local residents, a large mob of Muslim men vandalized eight churches and several homes following accusations of blasphemy against Islam in Pakistan’s most populous province of Punjab on Wednesday, escalating tensions between local majority Muslim and minority Christian communities.
In an update on Wednesday, the National Commission for Human Rights stated that the number of churches burned “has risen to eight,” calling the situation “sad and shameful.”
A police report obtained by the press said that two Christian men in the town of Jaranwala were charged by local police with allegedly “desecrating the holy Quran and abusing the Prophet Mohammed.” According to the report, the men were charged with “blasphemy” under Pakistani law.
Pakistani Christian communities are routinely persecuted under the country’s strict blasphemy laws, which activists claim have historically been used to persecute minority groups and isolate them from public life.
According to Yasir Talib, who works for the Center for Social Justice, the crowd also vandalized and set fire to the home of one Christian man accused of making blasphemous general comments about Islam.
Talib told the press that multiple churches, including the town’s Catholic Church, Salvation Army Church, Pentecostal Church, and the local Christian colony, had been vandalized and set on fire.
Many online users took to Twitter (X) to express their opinions regarding the tragic attacks.
The assistant commissioner for Faisalabad, where the town is located, called for the deployment of armed forces to assist in enforcing law and order in a statement issued on Wednesday, describing the situation as “sensitive and vulnerable.”
Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister, condemned the violence, saying in a statement on Twitter (X) that “stern action would be taken against those who violate the law and target minorities.”
The incident has left the country’s “Bishops, Priests, and lay people deeply pained and distressed,” according to Azad Marshall, President Bishop of the Church of Pakistan.
“Bibles have been desecrated and Christians have been tortured and harassed having been falsely accused,” Marshall said on X, calling for “justice and action” by law enforcement and the legal system.
Pakistan is one country where blasphemy is a capital offense that is punishable by death.
In 2013, angry Muslim men in Lahore’s Badami Bagh community set fire to more than 100 homes of Christians after police arrested a 20-year-old man accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
Three years earlier, a mother of five from Punjab was found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death for defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed.
Asia Bibi was released from death row in 2018 after successfully appealing her conviction and death sentence.
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