145 arrests in Pakistan over the burning of 20 churches, 86 houses of Christians after blasphemy rumour

Mob attacks on churches and houses of the Christian community in the Punjab province of Pakistan have resulted in 145 arrests, according to a preliminary police report submitted to the government today. The report said that at least 20 churches and 86 houses of Christians were burnt down by mobs.

One of the churches burned by an Islamist mob in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Photo courtesy: X/@BishopAzadM

The unprecedented attacks took place on Wednesday, just two days after Pakistan celebrated its independence day on August 14. According to the police report, the rampant violence was triggered by rumours that two Christians had desecrated the Quran.

The report indicated that several of these assailants could have been instigated and led by extremist elements from Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, a hardline Islamist organisation. The damaged places of worship and residence were in Jaranwala tehsil of Faisalabad district, 130 km from Lahore.

“At least 20 churches and 86 houses of Christians were burnt down by the mob in Jaranwala. Two Christians who were accused of desecrating the Quran have also been arrested. Besides, a cleric who made announcements from five mosques inciting people to attack Christian homes and churches is among 145 suspects arrested so far,” said the Punjab Police report.

Earlier in the day, the police produced 127 suspects before an anti-terrorism court in Faisalabad and obtained their two-day physical remand.

The police had also arrested two prime suspects involved in the attacks, said caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi of Punjab province. “Major breakthrough in the Jaranwala incident – both main accused now in CTD Custody. Appreciation for Chief Secretary Punjab and IG Punjab for their relentless efforts…,” posted Naqvi on the social network X, formerly known as Twitter.

Meanwhile, the Christian families started returning to their houses only to find their dwellings in ruin. They blamed the government for failing to provide security to their lives and properties in the face of radical Islamists’ onslaught.

All educational institutions, markets and business establishments remained closed in Jaranwala today. Naqvi said that the government would restore all churches in Jaranwala by next Tuesday and give financial compensation to the Christian families whose homes had been damaged. “More arrests are underway and every culprit will be brought to justice,” he said at a press conference.

Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw said that the Christians might get compensation but what about the fear instilled in them by this ghastly incident? He said that the government would have to take practical steps for the protection of the minority community. Radical Islamists had made four attempts on the life of Christian Assistant Commissioner Shaukat Masih of Jaranwala but he luckily survived, added Shaw.