Several churches and homes were burned in Pakistan on Wednesday (Aug. 16) in violence sparked by allegations that a Christian man had desecrated a Quran.
The attacks happened in Jaranwala, in the district of Faisalabad in Punjab province. Some Muslims living in the area claimed they had seen a local Christian man, Raja Amir, and his friend write insulting remarks on and tear pages from a Quran, according to The Associated Press.
A mob gathered and began attacking multiple Christian churches and the homes of Christians, burning furniture and other household items, the AP reported.
Al-Jazeera reports that at least one church was burned down and four other churches were damaged. Two dozen homes were torched or badly damaged as well, according to the report.
Amir reportedly went into hiding, and a local priest, Khalid Mukhtar, said most of the Christians living in the area had fled to safer places.
Mukhtar, whose house was among those burned, said there are 17 churches in Jaranwala and he believes most of them were attacked.
Al-Jazeera reports that dozens of people have been arrested in connection with the attacks. A local police official told the AP that an investigation is underway and that all involved in the attacks will be prosecuted. He also said the first priority of police was to “save the lives of all the Christians.” No casualties had been reported as of Aug. 17.
Blasphemy charges common
Blasphemy accusations are common in Pakistan. Under the country’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or Islamic religious figures can be sentenced to death, though no death sentences for blasphemy have been carried out.
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said he was “gutted” by the images coming out of Faisalabad.
“Stern action would be taken against those who violate law and target minorities. All law enforcement has been asked to apprehend culprits & bring them to justice,” he wrote on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
A senior Christian leader, Bishop Azad Marshall, appealed for help on social media and said he was “deeply pained and distressed.”
“We cry out for justice and action from law enforcement and those who dispense justice and the safety of all citizens to intervene immediately and assure us that our lives are valuable in our own homeland that has just celebrated independence and freedom,” he posted on X.
The Orthodox Public Affairs Committee, the advocacy arm of the global Orthodox Christian Church, issued a statement today (Aug. 17) condemning the attacks.
‘Right to live peacefully’
“Every individual, regardless of religious belief, has the right to live peacefully, practice their faith, and contribute to society without the fear of persecution,” the statement said. “We commend the efforts of Caretaker Prime Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar for his immediate call to action against those responsible for this heinous violence. Such leadership is crucial in upholding the principles of religious freedom and human rights, which form the bedrock of any harmonious society.”
Pakistan is No. 7 on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of places most difficult to be a Christian.