A wave of violence erupted in the town of Jaranwala in Pakistan’s Punjab province on Wednesday, as hundreds of Muslim protesters attacked and burned at least three Christian churches and several homes, accusing a local Christian family of desecrating the Quran, the holy book of Islam.
The incident was sparked by photos and videos of torn pages of the Quran with alleged blasphemous content written on them, which were shared among the locals and taken to a religious leader, who urged Muslims to demand justice and punish the culprits.
According to police, the mob armed with batons and sticks stormed a predominantly Christian area in Jaranwala, about 115 km (71 miles) from Lahore, the provincial capital, and set fire to the Salvation Army Church, the Saint Paul Catholic Church, and another church belonging to a Pentecostal denomination. They also looted valuables from houses that had been abandoned by their owners in fear of the attack.
Police officials said they were doing their best to control the situation and had filed a case against two local Christian residents under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, which carry the death penalty for anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or its prophet Muhammad. They also said they had deployed paramilitary forces to restore law and order in the area.
The Christian community in Pakistan, which makes up about 2% of the population and faces discrimination and persecution, expressed shock and anguish over the incident. Bishop Azad Marshall, a Christian leader in Lahore, said on Twitter that the community was “deeply pained and distressed” and called for justice and protection from the authorities.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, where even mere accusations can trigger mob violence and vigilante killings. In recent years, several Christians have been accused of blasphemy and faced attacks or legal action. In 2018, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy, was acquitted by the Supreme Court and later fled to Canada amid threats to her life.