LAHORE, Pakistan – Police tried to subdue hundreds of Christian activists across Pakistan on Sunday, a day after a Muslim mob burned dozens of homes owned by members of the minority religious group in retaliation for alleged insults against Islams Prophet Muhammad.
Christians are often the target of Pakistans harsh blasphemy laws, which rights activists say are frequently used to persecute religious minorities or settle personal disputes. Politicians have been reluctant to reform the laws for fear of being attacked by religious radicals, as has happened in the past.
The plight of Pakistans other religious minorities, such as Shiite Muslims, Hindus and Ahmadis, has also deepened in recent years as hard-line interpretations of Islam have gained ground and militants have stepped up attacks against groups they oppose. Most Pakistanis are Sunni Muslims.
The latest incident began Friday after a Muslim in the eastern city of Lahore accused a Christian man of blasphemy – an offense punishable by life in prison or even death. A day later, hundreds of angry Muslims rampaged through the Christian neighborhood, burning about 170 houses.
Authorities have arrested 160 suspected members of the mob, many of whom were identified through TV footage and photos published in newspapers, said police officer Abdur Rehman.
But it remains to be seen whether anyone will be held to account. Mob violence is not uncommon following blasphemy allegations, and police often round up large numbers of suspects. However, these arrests rarely result in convictions.
There have been no convictions related to a deadly attack on Christians in 2009 in the eastern city of Gojra that was also sparked by blasphemy allegations, the Express Tribune newspaper reported Sunday. Angry Muslims burned dozens of houses in Gojra, killing eight Christians – seven of them from one family trapped in a burning home.
No Christians were hurt in Saturdays attack in Lahore.