• Monday, September 25, 2023


More than 100 arrested after mob burns churches Pakistan

By: Chandrashekar Bhat

PAKISTAN’S blasphemy law has come under a spotlight after a Muslim mob burnt churches and houses in a Christian settlement in the east of the country, accusing two of its members of desecrating the Quran.

Authorities have arrested more than 100 people in connection with the attacks in Jaranwala of Faisalabad district, even as the government on Thursday (17) ordered a probe into the riots.

According to the Punjab government, activists of the extremist group Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), have also been taken into custody over the attacks.

Caretaker information minister Amir Mir of the Punjab provincial government said in a statement peace has been restored in the troubled area.

Critics say the country’s blasphemy law is often misused against tiny minority groups and even sometimes against Muslims to settle personal scores.

The law seeks the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam and its prophet Mohammad. It says that any “derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine”.

The law is rooted in 19th century colonial legislation to protect places of worship and was strengthened as part of a drive to Islamise the state during the military dictatorship of General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s.

Although no one has ever been executed, blasphemy convictions are common in Pakistan. Most convictions are thrown out on appeal by higher courts, but mobs have lynched dozens of people in vigilante attacks even before a case is put on trial.

Christians, who make up about two per cent of Pakistan’s 241-million population, have especially been at the receiving end of the blasphemy allegations.

Convictions hinge on witness testimony and often these are linked to personal vendettas, activists say.

In February, a violent mob snatched a man accused of blasphemy from a police lock-up and lynched him in Pakistan’s Punjab province where the latest upsurge of violence has taken place.

In 2021, a Sri Lankan manager of a garment factory was lynched in Punjab province over a blasphemy accusation.

The religious right has consistently blocked attempts to reform the law or even repeal it. Authorities say the law actually works as a shield for anyone accused of blasphemy, arguing that repealing it altogether will give Islamists a license to kill.

The TLP which was formed as a political party following the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer by his bodyguard has been leading the campaign in support of the law.

The TLP, which took part in the 2018 national election has held protests leading to clashes with law enforcement agencies. The group has since been outlawed but government sources and residents said some of its members were involved in the violence this week. The group denied the allegation.



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