No fewer than 128 suspects have been arrested in Pakistan for attacking about 21 churches and vandalising others over an allegation that two Christians desecrated a copy of the Quran, the Islam’s holy book, Christian Post reports.
Last week, thousands of Muslims embarked on riots, burning churches and vandalising private houses in a Christian colony in Jaranwala, Punjab Province, following claims that pages of Quran were torn and blasphemous content scribbled on them.
A local religious leader reportedly instigated the rioters to protest the alleged discovery of torn pages of a Quran with blasphemous content close to the Christian colony.
The mob also raised slogans in support of far-right Islamic extremist political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik and the Islamic group, Khatam-e-Nabuwat.
Videos posted on social media show the Muslim protesters destroying and vandalising church buildings as the police watch without intervening.
Residents and community leaders said the police came to the scene of the incident about 10 hours though it denied the claim.
Punjab police chief, Usman Auwar, said it did not intervene immediately to avoid the escalation of the riots.
The two Christians – Rocky Masih and Raja Masih – have also been arrested and are being investigated for blasphemy, a crime punishable by death in the Asian country though no one has been executed so far.
To forestall the degeneration of the crisis, the police have restricted public gatherings in Faisalabad district, including Jaranwala for one week.
Bishop Benny Travas of Karachi said in a statement on the incident that the Pakistani Christian community have again been confronted with open hatred and uncontrollable rage.
He said the allegation of blasphemy had “yet to be determined.”
“I just cannot comprehend how my people would show disrespect to any religion or to any religious books.
“We, as a Christian community, have time and again displayed our fidelity to the nation of Pakistan, yet incidents like the burning of Christian homes in Gojra, Shantinagar, Joseph Colony, and now Jaranwala, show that we are in reality second-class citizens who can be terrorised and frightened at will,” Travas said.
The bishop, August 18, led a non-violent demonstration against Jaranwala attacks at the Karachi Press Club.
The same day, the bishops’ Commission for Interfaith Dialogue organised a similar protest in Hyderabad.
Participants in the two protests, who bore different banners, decried the violence in Jaranwala.
Pakistan had in the past witnessed religious violence.
In 2019, allegations of blasphemy led to the killings of some individuals by mobs. Earlier in 2009, a group burnt down about 60 homes in Punjab while six persons were killed.
Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab province, was assassinated by his bodyguard in 2011 for speaking out against the blasphemy law.
Pakistan is one of the 50 countries of the world where it is difficult to practice Christianity, according to Open Doors, a Christian watchdog.
In its report earlier in the year, Pakistan was ranked seventh among the 50 countries.