The latest prolonged attack on Christians in Pakistan, after accusations that two men scribbled blasphemies on pages of the Quran and left them on the ground, has caused a wave of condemnations, including by authorities in the majority-Muslim nation.
The two men, reportedly brothers, have been charged with blasphemy but have not been tried or executed.
Police in Jaranwala, about 40 kilometers southeast of Faisalabad, have arrested 130 people. A riot that began on the morning of August 16 lasted several hours. The riot began after posts on social media spread the accusations against the men. Attacks affected an estimated eight and many homes.
Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan, and mobs have repeatedly proven willing to serve as jury, judge, and executioner.
“Words fail me as I write this. We, bishops, priests, and lay people are deeply pained and distressed at the Jaranwala incident in the Faisalabad District in Pakistan,” wrote Dr. Azad Marshall, moderator of the Church of Pakistan, as reported by Church Times. “A church building is being burned as I type this message. Bibles have been desecrated and Christians have been tortured and harassed, having been falsely accused of violating the Holy Quran.
“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.”
The Washington Post reported that former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that “such madness can’t be allowed.” Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, the caretaker prime minister who took over from Sharif earlier in the month, promised “stern action.”
Bishop Anthony Poggo, secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, said he was “deeply saddened and shocked” by the attacks. “I have been in contact with Bishop Azad and join him in calling for justice and action from law enforcement. Christians and other religious communities are being unjustly persecuted as a result of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.”
The government began to distribute 2 million rupees ($6,800) to every household affected by the violence.
Pakistan is one of seven nations evaluated by Bishop Philip Mounstephen in his Truro Report on religious persecution across the world.
“Religious minorities in Pakistan, including Christians, have experienced attacks and discrimination from extremist groups and the wider society,” the Truro Report says. “Christians’ low social status often exacerbates this problem. Islamist terrorist groups have carried out attacks on churches and individual Christians. The country’s blasphemy laws are used disproportionately against minority groups. According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), since 2011 c. 100 blasphemy cases have been registered, and a similar number of individuals are currently serving prison terms, ‘approximately 40 of whom are awaiting the death penalty or are serving life sentences.’”