An enraged Muslim crowd attacked a Christian neighborhood in Lahore on Saturday, setting fire to more than 150 houses and 2 churches, in a new display of religious intolerance as Pakistan reels from violent persecution against other minorities.
In Lahore, several thousand people attacked the Joseph Colony, a Christian neighborhood of about 200 homes, after a report that a Christian sanitation worker had blasphemed the Prophet Muhammad.
Blasphemy has acquired a hair-trigger sensitivity across Pakistan in recent years, with an alarming increase in mob violence.
The claims of blasphemy in Lahore, the police said, stemmed from an argument on Wednesday evening between two friends: Sawan Masih, the sanitation worker, and Shahid Imran, a Muslim barber. On Thursday, Mr. Imran accused Mr. Masih, 28, of blasphemy, sending a shiver of apprehension through the Christian population. People began to leave their homes that evening, and on Friday, the police prepared charges against Mr. Masih.
According to the facts gathered by CLAAS, on March 7, 2013 Sawan and Shahid sit together for drink in Shahid’s shop while drinking there was some minor dispute arose between them and without resolving that issue they left to their houses. Next day on March 8, 2013 they have been doing their own works. In the evening there was a rumor by Shahid Imran that Sawan Masih has passed derogatory remarks against the Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him). Local Muslims became furious, they called upon some more Muslims from the locality and informed them about blasphemy accusation, and then the anti-Christian hostility spread like a wildfire in the area. Living up to their reputation of penalizing so-called “blasphemers”, local Muslim clerics accused the father and the son, of committing blasphemy and made inflammatory statements against Sawan Masih and his father Chaman Masih. They incited Muslim residents of Joseph Colony and adjoining other Muslims from surroundings to attack on the Christians of the area to avenge alleged blasphemy. Above than 3000 Muslims from surrounding armed with firearms and explosives, were gathered there to attack on the Christian Colony. They put pressure on the police to get register a false and fabricated against Sawan Masih. The police registered a case FIR number 112/13 Under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code against Sawan Masih in Badami Bagh Police Station, Lahore on March 08, 2013.
Sawan Masih was at his work and when he heard about registration of FIR against him. He became scared and ran away.
On Saturday morning, several thousand people, including ethnic Pashtuns who worked in nearby factories, set upon the colony. Some were armed with batons and pistols, the police said.
“They vandalized Christians’ houses, desecrated churches and opened fire on the police,” according to a police spokesman, Multan Khan. Several policemen were hurt as they tried to intervene.
Others who rushed to the Joseph Colony, which is in an industrial area home to scrap yards and factories, tried to extinguish the fires. By evening, about 178 houses, 18 shops and 2 churches had been damaged by fire, said Ahmad Raza, who was leading the rescue operation.
According to human rights groups, blasphemy laws in Pakistan have been exploited not only for persecuting minorities but also for settling personal rivalries.