By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A highly-charged mob of between 3,000 and 4,000 extremists set torched as many as 100 houses in the Christian-majority area of Joseph Colony, Badami Bagh, Lahore, over the weekend to "take revenge of the blasphemy" allegedly committed by a young Christian.
This pictures posted on a social
networking site says it all
Eyewitnesses said that the mob broke into houses, looted them and burnt the remaining belongings on the roads. At least two police officers were reportedly injured when the mob pelted a police contingent with stones.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the violence was reportedly triggered by a blasphemy accusation made against a young Christian, Savan Masih.
"The unrest spiraled as word spread of the allegation and protestors demanded his arrest," said a spokesperson for CSW. "Police took him into custody today, but it is unclear whether or not he has been formally charged. At least one local religious leader has openly called for Savan to be killed."
The mob also attacked Savan's house, setting it on fire and pelting it with stones.
A protestor celebrates the burning of homes (Photo: Abid Nawaz/Express, Pakistan)
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari said that he has "taken notice of the incident" and has sought a report from authorities, reported Radio Pakistan.
Dr. Paul Bhatti, Advisor to the Pakistan's Prime Minister on Interfaith and Harmony has condemned the incident and called all relevant authorities to "ensure the safety of the Christians of Pakistan."
Punjab Law Minister, Rana Sanaullah, told Pakistan's Express News that he saw no reason for the mob's violence especially after the person accused of blasphemy had been arrested on Friday. He added that cases have been registered against those responsible for Saturday's vandalism and that they will be prosecuted. He also stated publicly that the Christians "will be compensated for the loss of property."
A protester burns belongings from Christian houses in Lahore on Saturday (Photo: Abid Nawaz/Express, Pakistan)
"It is however encouraging that we have been receiving messages and offers of support from Muslim friends all day. It reminds us that this country does still have a soul."
According to ANS correspondent, Shamim Masih, on hearing the news, Christians of Islamabad/Rawalpindi, cancelled all their engagements and immediately convened an emergency meeting about this incident.
"Later," he said, "Christians, human rights activists, and members of the local civil society, staged a protest at the National Press Club, Islamabad. They were holding banners and shouting slogans against on the attack on the poor Christians of Joseph Colony, Lahore."
Basharat Khokhar, a human rights activist said that the "ugly fact is that the blasphemy laws are an enabler of mob violence against vulnerable groups."
Christians of Islamabad/Rawalpindi staged protest against the latest shocking incident (Photo: Shamim Masih)
In August 2012, a similar incident was narrowly averted in Islamabad, in the wake of the false blasphemy charge against a Christian teenager, Rimsha Masih. The Christian community fled their homes in fear of violence in that instance as well. Eventually, Rimsha was acquitted and freed, but not until there was much suffering by the local Christian community at the hands of extremists.
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said, "We are shocked and saddened to hear of another terrible attack of this kind. While blasphemy accusations do affect Pakistanis of all faiths, cases against minorities routinely lead to the violent targeting of the wider community of the accused. It is absolutely unacceptable that local police did not take more serious measures to prevent this entirely foreseeable violence.
"Just as the handling of Rimsha Masih's case represented a step forwards, this situation underlines the huge amount of work that remains to be done. The lessons of past episodes of violence have still not been learnt. We strongly condemn these attacks and call upon the Pakistani government to take immediate steps to increase security in the area, to support those who have fled, to arrest those inciting and carrying out the violence, and to ensure that the blasphemy accusation is properly and fairly investigated so that mob justice does not prevail."