After the serious riots in a Christian district of Jaranwala in the Pakistani province of Punjab, security forces cordoned off the district. All entrances and exits were blocked with barbed wire, a cameraman reported to the Reuters news agency. The provincial government said paramilitary troops had been deployed to support the police.
Special Unit for the Protection of Religious Minorities
The English-language Pakistani daily “Dawn” reported, citing the authorities, that a police unit had been set up to protect religious minorities as a result of the attacks. In the future, 70 officers from the special unit will protect communities of religious minorities in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. It was initially unclear whether similar units would also be formed in other parts of the country. According to “Dawn”, the authorities also imposed a seven-day ban on gatherings.
On Wednesday, according to residents of the Christian quarter in Jaranwala, several thousand Muslims led by local clergymen invaded their district and marauded through the streets. They were armed with sticks, iron bars and knives. At least five churches were destroyed and many Christian homes were vandalized. Police officers were on site during the attacks but did nothing, it said. The security forces rejected the allegations and, according to their own statements, have arrested 129 suspects so far.
The outraged crowd demanded the handing over of two residents of the Christian quarter, who were accused of having degraded the Koran – the holy book of Islam. Those wanted had fled their homes. Leaders of the Islamist Tehreek-e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party then incited their supporters. The police assumed on Thursday that the allegations were fabricated and that it was more about a dispute between a shopkeeper and two young Christians.
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in predominantly Muslim Pakistan. There are repeated cases of deadly violence in the wake of allegations of blasphemy. In extreme cases, the laws provide for death for insulting Islam or the Prophet Mohammed.
US demands clarification
The US government called on the Pakistani authorities to “fully investigate” the allegations that led to the riots and to urge calm. While his country supports freedom of expression, “violence or the threat of violence is never an acceptable form of expression,” said US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel.
Amnesty International’s South Asia expert Rahab Mahamoor said such attacks fueled the climate of discrimination and fear for religious minorities. Pakistan’s authorities must address the issue of impunity for attacks on religious minorities, the human rights activist recommended.
se/kle (rtr, dpa, ap, afp, epd)