Pakistani police have arrested more than 600 people on charges of ransacking multiple churches and attacking the properties of Christians in Jaranwala, northeastern Punjab province.
Police said they have lodged two separate cases against “violent mobs,” who on Wednesday attacked churches and the homes of Christians after a Christian man was accused of desecrating the Quran.
The attacks occurred after some Muslims living in the area claimed they had seen a local Christian and his friend tearing out pages from a Quran, throwing them on the ground and writing insulting remarks on other pages.
A mob demolished the man’s house and damaged churches. The homes of other Christians living in the area were also targeted.
Multiple churches were also set on fire in the central-eastern region, Bishop Majeed Able told Anadolu Agency.
An uneasy calm prevailed today in Christian-dominated localities in Jaranwala as most of the markets, shops, banks and business centres remained open.
All the educational institutions, however, remained closed in line with a government order.
Footage aired on local broadcaster GNN showed crowds of people shopping in markets and shops, while the Rangers para-military force and police patrolled in sensitive areas.
More than 6,000 security forces have been deployed to the town, mainly in Christian-dominated localities, to ensure public order.
Meanwhile, in the capital Islamabad police said 70 policemen have been posted with the responsibility of protecting minority places of worship.
Condemnations poured in as the government and religious parties expressed solidarity with the Christian community.
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar condemned the events and said that harsh action would be taken against those responsible for violating the law and targeting minorities.
“I am gutted by the visuals coming out of Jaranwala, Faisalabad. Stern action would be taken against those who violate the law and target minorities,” said Kakar in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Wednesday.
The Foreign Office said the law enforcement authorities “took swift action” as they have been instructed by Premier Kakar “to apprehend the culprits and bring them to justice.”
“Individuals belonging to religious minorities are equal citizens of the state. As a multicultural and multifaith country, Pakistan is fully determined to protect and promote their constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms and to foster social harmony, tolerance, and mutual respect,” said the Foreign Office in a statement.
Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Asim Munir also condemned the ransacking of churches by violent mobs, vowing that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.
“Jaranwala incident is extremely tragic and totally intolerable. There is no space for such incidents of intolerance and extreme behaviour by any segment of the society against anyone, particularly against minorities,” Munir said.
Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema Islam, the country’s two mainstream religio-political parties, also condemned the events, demanding action against those involved in the ransacking of churches.
Meanwhile, at a joint press conference at Trinity Church in the port city of Karachi, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders denounced the violent events and called for “tolerance” and “unity” among all faiths.
Christians in Pakistan constitute about 1.6% of the country’s population. The majority of them are from the Catholic, Protestant or Anglican denominations.
Human rights groups say they face some challenges, including occasional discrimination, social and economic disparities, and instances of violence or persecution.
Despite this, many Pakistani Christians actively contribute to various sectors like education, healthcare and social services.
SOURCE: AA and 5PILLARS