Churches and homes have been devastated after anti-Christian riots in the Pakistan city of Jaranwala, Punjab.
On 16 August, armed mobs, reportedly incited by local mosque leaders, attacked the Christian community after torn pages of the Quran were allegedly discovered nearby.
At least 22 church buildings were attacked, with five of them set ablaze, in riots lasting several hours. Dozens of houses of Christians were ransacked and set on fire. A Christian cemetery was also desecrated.
Hundreds of Christian families fled for safety to nearby villages or to Faisalabad city about 40km away. The following day, some started to return. They came home to still-burning remains of churches, and discovered that their few possessions had been looted or destroyed.
Two Christian brothers were accused of desecrating the pages of the Quran. They were presented before the judicial magistrate and charged under sections 295C and 295B of the Pakistan Penal Code for allegedly committing “blasphemy”.
Numerous Bibles, hymnbooks and other Christian materials were burned in the riots. A victim of the riots remarked, “My house is in ashes now. If the mob had so much anger, why did they burn houses and steal our belongings? Is burning the Bible not blasphemous?”
Meanwhile, Supreme Court judge Justice Qazi Faez Isa visited Jaranwala on 19 August to express solidarity with the Christian community. He assured Christians that they had equal rights to practise their religion as everyone else.
“If anyone attacks churches, it is the responsibility of Muslims [to catch] the attackers,” he said, adding that Christians have as much right to build churches as Muslims have to build mosques.
At time of writing police had arrested 160 people for involvement in the violence.
Interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar also visited the city on 21 August. He emphasised that it was the government’s responsibility to ensure the safety of every citizen. “The Christian community played an important role in the creation of Pakistan and it is the responsibility of every Muslim to protect the minority community,” he added.
Outdoor church services were held with extra police protection next to the torched church buildings on Sunday, 20 August.