Hundreds of people stormed a Christian colony in Jaranwala city near Faisalabad, Punjab province, Pakistan on 16 August, and ransacked at least two churches and adjoining buildings over an alleged blasphemy accusation.
Mob attacks have caused fear and panic through the area and the local market was shut down. Videos and messages from local residents on social media suggested that the mobs were stirred up by reports, broadcast over local mosque loudspeakers, of the alleged desecration of religious scriptures by two local Christian residents, named as Rocky Masih and Raja Masih.
The two accused have been charged with insulting Islam under Section 295-B of the Pakistani Penal Code and defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed, under Section 295-C. While a heavy contingent of police reached the area and assured the growing mob that the suspects would be apprehended and would face action under the law, videos showed the charged crowds proceeding to attack the colony, demanding to execute the two men themselves.
Meanwhile Christian residents of the colony and adjoining Christian villages are fleeing for fear of further attacks. A local Christian resident told CSW that families from at least over 500 homes have fled three Christian settlements.
A mob also ransacked the Salvation Army Church in the colony, one of the oldest churches in the area, and reportedly set it on fire, in addition to ransacking another local church and adjoining buildings. There are reports of between two and six churches affected.
Local mobs raised slogans in favour of extremist organisations Tehreek-e-Labbaik and Khatam-e-Nabuwat, in addition to demanding the execution of the the two men accused of blasphemy.
Local residents expressed their belief to CSW that if police had acted in time, the situation would not have escalated. The government has since called for additional police contingents from other cities and summoned the Rangers, federal law enforcement, to subdue the mob. Exit and entry points to the city have been sealed while Christian institutions and churches in adjoining cities have been closed in an attempt to avoid further attacks.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: ‘The news today from Jaranwala of yet another attack on an entire community because of a blasphemy allegation is deeply worrying. While blasphemy accusations affect Pakistanis of all faiths, cases against minorities routinely lead to the violent targeting of the wider community of the accused. It is unacceptable that the police did not act swiftly to prevent the violence in Jaranwala, which was entirely predictable. The lessons of past episodes of violence have still not been learnt. CSW condemns these attacks and calls upon the Pakistani government to do more to increase security in the area without delay, to support those who have fled, and to arrest those inciting and carrying out the violence, so that mob justice does not prevail.’