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Pakistan: Christians take to streets to protest against yet another mob attack over blasphemy

Visual shows violent mob attack in Sargodha (Photo: ANI)

Angry members of the Christian community took to the streets to protest after a Muslim mob attacked a Christian factory owner in Punjab’s Sargodha district for alleged blasphemy, Union of Catholic Asian News reported.

The incident occurred on May 25 when an angry mob, assaulted a Christian person, vandalized his house, and torched properties alleging an incident of ‘blasphemy’ in Mujahid Colony in Sargodha, Punjab province in Pakistan.

“We demand justice for the [Christian] community. The tragedies are being repeated,” said Nosherwan Iqbal, chairman of the Peace Committee in the Hazara division in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Christians gathered across th city from Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to southern Karachi in Sindh to protest against the mob attack on two houses and a shoe factory in Sargodha district in Punjab, as per UCA news.

Following the incident, over 400 unidentified suspects have been charged, and 25 arrested, in Pakistan, under terrorism and other offences for attacking the Christian man and police officers in Sargodha district, approximately 200 kilometres from Lahore, Dawn reported.

The Christian factory owner, Nazir Masih, is accused of burning the pages of the Quran in his residential area in Mujahid colony and was attacked by a mob, numbering over 400 and armed with batons, bricks, and stones.

“Our brother, a businessman, was victimized. We are peaceful people being pushed to their limits,” Iqbal told UCA News on May 26.

The case was registered on behalf of the state under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997 and sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

However, the police also registered a blasphemy case against the Christian man, a resident of Mujahid Colony, who was critically injured by the mob but survived the lynching attempt. He was booked on the report of an activist of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, identified as Muhammad Jahangir.

A local resident, speaking to Dawn, reported that burnt pages of the Holy Quran were discovered on the cover of a water pump near the residence of a Christian man. However, no one witnessed him setting the pages on fire. The man’s family is described as humble and not associated with such activities, as per Dawn.

A mob of religious individuals attempted to lynch the Christian man on Saturday. According to a case filed by Station House Officer (SHO) Shahid Iqbal, locals, armed with sticks, stones, and weapons, gathered in front of the man’s house and tried to break in.

Amid police efforts, the Sargodha Peace Committee, and other residents tried to resolve the situation through dialogue, the mob set fire to a shoe unit owned by the man’s son and attempted to enter his house from adjoining rooftops.

The crowd also destroyed electricity meters and outdoor AC units outside the man’s home and set them on fire.

The situation was brought under control after a heavy contingent of police reached the spot. Station house officer Iqbal and other police officers on the scene saved the man from the burning house.

However, as they brought him out, the mob surrounded them, threw stones, and beat them with sticks, severely injuring the man.

According to the FIR, some women are also part of the violence. The case was registered under several sections of the ATA and PPC, including an attempt to murder, obstructing public officials in discharging their duty, assaulting a public official and mischief by fire or explosive material with intent to destroy a house or cause death or hurt.

Following the incident, Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Usman Anwar and Home Secretary Noorul Amin Mengal visited Sargodha and inspected the crime scene.

In response to the incident, Provincial Minister for Minority Affairs Ramesh Singh Arora took notice of the alleged blasphemy and contacted the Punjab home secretary.

Under the supervision of Sargodha District Police Officer Asad Ijaz Malhi, the security of churches in the entire district was tightened and more than 1,000 security personnel were deployed at the churches on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Sargodha District Police Officer Asad Ejaz Malhi told Dawn that the incident happened over an incident of alleged desecration. The police cordoned off two houses in the colony and “safely recovered all the residents,” he said.

Unverified footage on social media showed a mob surrounding an injured man and separate videos showing men, some of whom appeared to be teenagers, wrecking furniture outside a house, according to Dawn.

Being asked about the videos, DPO Malhi said that these were “fake videos” and insisted that no one was hurt in Sargodha district. “Police is maintaining law and order,” he added.

More than 200 Christian families from Sargodha, half of them Catholics, have fled as the vital Punjab province witnessed another mob attack over blasphemy in August last year.

This is one of the many episodes that highlight the precarious situation faced by religious minorities in Pakistan, who continue to face the threats of persecution and attacks.