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Two Christians arrested in Pakistan over blasphemy accusation | News

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The alleged desecration of pages of the Quran led a violent mob to attack Christian homes and churches this week.

Police have arrested two Christians accused of blasphemy in eastern Pakistan – two days after a Muslim mob burned churches and houses in the minority’s community – saying the two men had desecrated the Quran.

Pages of the Quran were found in a street with derogatory comments written on them in red, police said.

One attached extra page also carried the names, addresses and national identity card numbers of the accused, provincial police chief Usman Anwar said, adding that police were investigating all angles as to why the names and addresses would be attached, the Reuters news agency reported.

A court ordered the two suspects to be held in police custody for seven days for questioning, a government spokesperson said.

People gather at a church building vandalised by protesters in Jaranwala, Pakistan, August 16, 2023 [Fayyaz Hussain/Reuters]

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan but no one has ever been executed. Numerous accused have been lynched by outraged mobs.

A former provincial governor and a minister for minorities were shot dead for trying to reform the blasphemy law.

Rights groups have said accusations of blasphemy are sometimes used to settle scores. Hundreds of people are languishing in prison after being accused because judges often put off trials, fearing retribution if they are seen as being lenient, they say.

The police said it has so far arrested 146 people involved in the attack on the Christian community in Jaranwala in the industrial district of the city of Faisalabad.

On Friday, caretaker Prime Minister Anwar ul-Haq Kakar said that minorities have to be protected at all costs, promising to take action against those involved in violence.

“There won’t be any favour. There won’t be any fear,” he said in his first cabinet meeting telecast live.

St. John Catholic Church, Jaranwala, Pakistan, August 18, 2023 [Abid Hussain/Al Jazeera]
The police said they have so far arrested 146 people involved in the attack on the Christian community in Jaranwala in the industrial district of the city of Faisalabad [Abid Hussain/Al Jazeera]

Paramilitary troops have been guarding the community in the eastern part of the country after the mob vandalised at least one main and four small churches and set dozens of houses on fire.

A Christian graveyard was also desecrated in the vicinity, residents and community leaders said.

The attack continued for more than 10 hours without any intervention by police who were at the scene, residents and community leaders said. Police have denied the accusation, saying security forces had prevented an even worse situation.

The residents said thousands of Muslims led by local religious leaders were carrying iron rods, sticks, knives and daggers during the rioting.

Hundreds of Christians had fled the settlement and took refuge in a nearby district.

The displaced families have started returning to their homes, Akmal Bhatti, a community leader, told Reuters.

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