Pakistan flag. (IANS Photo)
New Delhi, August 16 (IANS): A number of churches were vandalised in the Jaranwala tehsil of Faisalabad in Pakistan on Wednesday over blasphemy allegations, officials said, local media reported.
A Christian leader, Akmal Bhatti, said the crowd had torched at least five churches and looted valuables from houses that had been abandoned by their owners after clerics made announcements in mosques inciting the mob, Dawn reported.
Images on social media showed smoke rising from the church buildings and people setting fire to furniture that had been dragged from them.
Jaranwala pastor Imran Bhatti told Dawn that the ransacked churches included the Salvation Army Church, United Presbyterian Church, Allied Foundation Church and Shehroonwala Church situated in the Isa Nagri area.
He added that the house of a Christian cleaner, who was accused of blasphemy, was also demolished.
Speaking to Dawn, Punjab province police chief Usman Anwar said the police were negotiating with the protesters and the area had been cordoned off.
"There are narrow lanes (in the area) in which small two to three marla churches are located and there is one main church ... they have vandalised portions of the churches," he said.
The official stated that efforts were under way to contain the situation by engaging with peace committees and police across the province had been activated.
"The assistant commissioner of the area, a member of the Christian community, has also been evacuated after people turned against him," Anwar added.
On the other hand, Christian leaders alleged that the police remained silent spectators, Dawn reported.
Separately, Punjab Home Department spokesperson Amjad Kalyar confirmed that a request seeking the deployment of Rangers in the area had been sent to the department, but a decision was yet to be taken on it.
Taking to X (formerly Twitter), President Bishop of the Church of Pakistan Azad Marshall said that Bibles had been desecrated and Christians were tortured and harassed "having been falsely accused of violating the Holy Quran", Dawn reported.
Former senator Afrasiab Khattak condemned the incident and demanded that the culprits should be brought to book.
"Pakistani state has failed to provide security to the worship places of people who follow religions other than Islam. Impunity to the crimes committed in the name of religion has emboldened extremists and terrorists," he added, Dawn reported.
Balochistan Senator Sarfaraz Bughti also called on the Punjab government to enforce its full might to protect churches and Christian hope.
"We, as a Pakistani, can't allow the madness happening in Jaranwala," he said on X. "We have a responsibility toward the minorities in our country, and we couldn’t let the crisis worsen any further!" Bughti added., Dawn reported.