Lahore, Pakistan — Hundreds of Muslims took to the streets in a Christian neighborhood in Pakistan today to ransack and torch dozens of homes after it was reported that a man from the area had spoken against Islam’s prophet, Mohammad.
According to reports, the incident began on Friday, when a young Muslim man accused a Christian in Lahore of committing blasphemy against Mohammad. Last night, a large crowd gathered outside of the man’s home, demanding that police take action against the man, who has now been identified as Sawan Masih. Officers later arrived and took a report against Masih, who is now in police custody.
Fearing for their lives, hundreds of Christians fled the area overnight.
Today, the mob returned to the neighborhood armed with hammers and steel rods, prepared to do damage. They began ransacking homes and dragging household appliances, such as refrigerators, washing machines, sewing machines and other household goods out into the streets, where the smashed the items openly. They then torched house after house — approximately 150 in total. Bibles and crosses that were found inside of the homes were also reportedly set on fire.
None of the Christians were hurt in the incident, but some police officers were injured after they were pelted with stones as they tried to deal with the mob.
Residents returned to their homes later only to find that they had been destroyed.
“They have burnt each and every thing in my whole house. Nothing is left here. I don’t know why this happened,” Samina Riaz told the Associated Press. “Now we don’t have even enough to eat.”
Another resident claims that the violence was uncalled for as he believes that there is misunderstanding about the blasphemy rumor. He stated that the Muslim and Christian man had gotten into a disagreement and that the Muslim man fabricated the story.
In Pakistan, it is against the law for any citizen to speak against Islam or Mohammad, and the commission of blasphemy can result in the death penalty. There are currently 16 people on death row in the country and another 20 have been sentenced to life in prison for improper speech. Normally, government officials carry out any retribution against violators, but sometimes local Muslims decide to take vengeance themselves.
“The attack is yet another shameful incident against a vulnerable community and further confirmation of the slide toward extremism in society on the one hand and, on the other hand, the apathy and inaction that has become the norm among the police,” lamented the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a written statement.
The group said that the police show bias in arresting Masih “while those who went on a rampage and can easily be identified from television footage have gone scot-free.”
As previously reported, last December, a mob of approximately 200 Muslims stormed a police station in Karachi and beat and burned a man to death for destroying a copy of the Koran. A similar incident also took place in July.
Additionally, a Christian teenager was wrongfully charged in a blasphemy case last year, as 16-year-old Rimsha Masih was accused of placing burned pages of a book that quoted from the Koran in the garbage. The case was later dismissed after a neighbor admitted that she had been framed.
In 2011, the governor of Punjab Province, Salman Taseer, and Religious Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti were both assassinated for suggesting that the nation’s blasphemy law should be amended.