A violent mob broke out Wednesday in Pakistan against the Christian community in the eastern city of Jaranwala. According to local media reports, public riots took place in the city when individuals accused Christians of tearing pages out of the Quran.
According to the AP and local media outlet Dawn, the attacks came immediately after accusations against Christians spread like wildfire. The city of Jaranwala is about 70 miles from Lahore, the country's second most populous city, and the capital of Punjab.
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. A church building is being burnt as I type this message. Bibles have been desecrated and Christians have been… pic.twitter.com/xruE83NPXL
— Bishop Azad Marshall (@BishopAzadM) August 16, 2023
At least five churches burned
According to reports, large mobs of men advanced towards the various Christian temples in the city and began looting and burning them. According to Dawn, at least five churches were attacked. In the videos circulating on social media, looters are seen entering the temples, setting them on fire and destroying their belongings. Specifically, two videos show how groups of men climb on the roofs of these churches to tear down the symbol of the cross backed by the applause of the crowd.
According to the AP, Pakistani authorities deployed police forces to try to control attacks against the Christian community. In the images, armed agents can be seen in the vicinity of a burned church. According to Jaranwala Police Chief Rizwan Khan, the looters also attacked the homes of Christians in the city and set fire to a good number of them.
Pakistan🚨 Muslim extremists backed by the Pakistan government chant religious slogans Labaik or Rasool Allah while burning churches. The attacks came after local Muslims accused a Christian family of blasphemy.#Faisalabad #Jaranwala pic.twitter.com/2DZpxt4WdR
— OSINT Updates (@OsintUpdates) August 16, 2023
Christians fleeing the city
AFP cites the account of Yassir Bhatti, a 31-year-old Christian who fled the city after angry mobs attacked his home. "They broke the windows, the doors and took out refrigerators, sofas, chairs and other household goods to pile them in front of the church and burn them," Bhatti said. "They also burned and desecrated Bibles. They were ruthless," concludes the Pakistani Christian.
According to authorities, members of the Christian community fled the city in search of a safe haven. The Punjab government has not offered exact details or data about how many buildings have been damaged, or regarding how many were injured in the riots. According to BBC correspondents in Punjab, police have made more than 100 arrests in connection with attacks on the Christian community. Authorities have also banned any mass gatherings for the next seven days.
— Khaleej Mag (@KhaleejMag) August 16, 2023
It is not the first time such incidents have occurred in Pakistan. With 96% of the population being Muslim, Pakistan's law harshly punishes all kinds of "insults" to Islam. Citizens often take the law into their own hands. In 2020, a Sri Lankan individual was also accused by an angry mob of blasphemy against Islam. He was then riddled with bullets, and his body was burned in the middle of the street.