‘We cry out for justice,’ says bishop as mob attacks churches over blasphemy in Pakistan

A mob attacked churches in Pakistan after allegations of blasphemy.

  • Several churches in Pakistan were set alight on Wednesday.
  • A mob attacked and looted homes after accusations of blasphemy.
  • Christians make up around 2% of the population.

Several churches were set on fire by a rampaging mob in eastern Pakistan on Wednesday after a Christian family was accused of blasphemy, officials said.

Hundreds of people armed with sticks and rocks stormed the predominantly Christian area in Faisalabad city, police in the area told AFP.

Images on social media showed smoke rising from the church buildings and people setting fire to furniture that had been dragged from them.

The attack was triggered by a group of religious zealots accusing a local Christian family of desecrating the Quran, according to a rescue official at the scene.

“Photos and video clips of burnt pages of the Quran were shared among the locals, which created an uproar,” Rana Imran Jamil, a spokesperson for the city’s 1122 rescue service, told AFP by phone.

READ | Pakistan condemns Quran burning as ‘attack on faith’ at UN rights body

He said four churches had been set on fire, adding that there were no reports of injuries.

Pakistani bishop Azad Marshall, in the neighbouring city of Lahore, said the Christian community was “deeply pained and distressed”.

“We cry out for justice and action from law enforcement and those who dispense justice and the safety of all citizens to intervene immediately and assure us that our lives are valuable in our own homeland,” he posted on the social media platform X.

Reuters reported that Police were trying to calm the situation, but local residents said it seemed to be worsening. 

The crowd had grown in number, with dozens of people blocking a nearby highway.

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 after clerics made announcements in mosques inciting the mob.

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in ultra-conservative Pakistan, where anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures can face the death penalty.

Islamist right-wing leaders and political parties across the country frequently rally around the issue, while politicians have been assassinated, European countries threatened with nuclear annihilation and students lynched over blasphemy allegations.

Christians – who make up around 2% of the population – occupy one of the lowest rungs in Pakistani society, and are frequently targeted with spurious and unfounded blasphemy allegations.

According to Reuters, rights groups say accusations of blasphemy are also misused to settle scores. 

Hundreds of people are languishing in prison after being accused of it as judges often put off trials, fearing retribution if they are seen as too lenient, they say.

In July of 2018, four men attacked a church in Faisalabad with 20 worshippers inside.

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