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Two Christians accused of blasphemy arrested in Pakistan after mob burnt churches

Two Christians accused of blasphemy arrested in Pakistan after mob burnt churches
Members of the Christian minority gesture as they shout slogans during a protest against mob attacks that erupted the day before in Jaranwala, near Faisalabad, in Peshawar, Pakistan, 17 August 2023. Armed mobs in Jaranwala targeted two churches and private homes, setting them on fire and causing widespread destruction. The attack was sparked by the discovery of torn pages of the Muslims holy book Koran with alleged blasphemous content near a Christian colony. EPA-EFE/RAHAT DAR

Police in Pakistan have arrested two Christians accused of blasphemy, a spokesperson said on Friday, two days after a Muslim mob burnt churches and houses in the minority's settlement, saying the two men had desecrated the Koran.

The accusations against the two Christians relates to pages of the Koran found with some derogatory remarks written in red, police said.

Paramilitary troops have been guarding the settlement in the eastern part of the country after the mob vandalised at least one main and four small churches and set scores of houses on fire.

A Christian graveyard was also desecrated, residents and the community leaders said, adding the mob dragged belongings from Christians’ houses and set them on fire in the streets, and took away valuables which they could carry.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan and though no one has ever been executed, numerous accused people have been lynched by outraged mobs. A former provincial governor and a minister for minorities were shot dead just because they had tried to reform the blasphemy law.

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwar ul Haq Kakar said on Friday that minorities have to be protected at all costs, promising to take action against those involved in violence.

“There won’t be any favour. There won’t be any fear,” he said in his first Cabinet meeting telecast live.

Police said they have so far rounded up 128 people involved in the attack on the Christian community in Jaranwala in Faisalabad industrial district on Wednesday.

The attack continued for more than 10 hours without any intervention by police who were at the scene, residents and community leaders said. Police have denied the accusation, saying security forces had prevented an even worse situation.

RETURNING HOME

Residents said thousands of Muslims led by local clerics were seen carrying iron rods, sticks, knives and daggers during the rioting.

Hundreds of Christians had fled the settlement and took refuge in a nearby district.

The displaced families have started returning to their homes, Akmal Bhatti, a community leader, told Reuters.

Friday’s Muslim prayer sermons will focus on minorities’ rights to calm down the situation, a government statement said.

Rights groups and Washington have called on Pakistani authorities to ensure the protection of minorities.

“The vicious mob attacks are just the latest manifestation of the threat of vigilante violence which anyone can face in Pakistan after a blasphemy accusation,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

Rights groups say accusations of blasphemy are sometimes used to settle scores and accused are lynched by mobs before a trial could begin. It said hundreds of people were also languishing in prison after being accused of the crime because judges delay trials, fearing retribution if they are seen as being lenient toward accused.

(Writing and reporting by Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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