Angry mob targets Pakistani Christians for “blasphemy”

An angry mob in Lahore, Pakistan, exacted its own retribution for a crime of blasphemy by burning down the homes of several Christian families.

Over 3,000 angry demonstrators in violent outburst vandalized and burned the homes and businesses of a Christian settlement in the Badami Bagh neighborhood. Reporters on the scene claim that demonstrators broke into homes, looted them and burnt the remaining belongings outside.

The mob was provoked when blasphemous comments made by a Christian against the prophet Muhammad circulated in the majority Muslim neighborhood. There were no reported fatalities, but twenty police officers were injured from suppressing the mob.

The recent violence in Lahore has gained international attention because of a controversial case that occurred in August of last year, in which a 14-year-old Christian girl was accused of blasphemy and placed in high security prison for three weeks. Police officials claimed that the girl was put in prison for her own protection against violent uproars. The case caused an outcry from both the Pakistani population and the international community. Blasphemy courts have been used to persecute religious minorities since the establishment of blasphemy laws in 1986.

In the most recent controversy, Sawan Masih, a 28-year-old Christian, was accused of making derogatory comments against the prophet Muhammad, a serious crime. Masih’s barber had informed the police of the blasphemous comments three days prior to the riot. Masih was detained on the night before the riot and could be fined or put to death if found guilty. According to a senior police official, the mob wanted the police to hand them over Masih.

“At least 160 houses, 18 shops and two small churches were burnt by protesters,” said Dr. Ahmad Raza of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

The President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, called for further investigations of the unfortunate incident and denounced the acts of violence as tarnishing the image of the country.

Shamaun Alfred Gill, a spokesman for the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, also condemned the violence and insisted that the government provide Pakistani Christians with lawful protection against acts of violence.

Animosity between Islam and Christian faiths is not atypical in Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim nation. Laws in Pakistan aim to curb religious violence by imposing harsh punishments for blasphemy against all religions. Punishments for blasphemy range from a small fine to the death penalty. Minority religions are often treated with suspicion and hostility under these laws while human rights organizations continue to criticise the Pakistani government for tolerating blatant acts of injustice in their judicial system.

Joseph Colony, the targeted neighborhood of Saturday’s mob, was set ablaze, but not before many Christian families fled the area fearing a violent uproar. Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the HRCP, said the provincial government “totally failed in providing protection to a minority community under siege.”

Provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah, told reporters that no one who committed the acts of violence will go unnoticed under the laws governing the province.