PAKISTAN: Muslim mob attacks Christian community in Jaranwala

Jaranwala Church burning On 16 August, a mob numbering several hundred Muslim men armed with sticks vandalised and burnt church buildings and scores of houses in the Christian community of Jaranwala, about 40km from Faisalabad in Punjab province.

The mob violence followed allegations of blasphemy made against Christian brothers Raja Amir Saleem Masih and Rocky Saleem Masih, who were burning waste paper when they were accused of desecrating pages of the Holy Quran.

Local police inspector Mansoor Sadiq was approached by Muhammad Afzal, Noor Hussain and Muhammad Tauheed who alleged that the Saleem brothers had desecrated the Holy Quran and produced a letter purportedly containing blasphemous comments about the Holy Prophet.

The news spread rapidly on social media, igniting indignation among the local Muslim community. Local mosques further heightened tensions by broadcasting announcements condemning Christians. In one announcement captured on video a Muslim cleric said, “Christians have desecrated the Holy Quran. All the clerics, all the Muslims should unite and gather in front of the mosque. Better to die if you don’t care about Islam.”


Police officer at JaranwalaThe situation swiftly escalated into mass protests, with enraged mobs targeting churches and the homes of the Christian community. Fearing for their safety, many Christians fled their homes.

Protesters blocked major junctions in the area and a large number of police was dispatched to the scene. In an attempt to defuse tensions, a police superintendent, accompanied by Mufti Muhammad Younis Rizvi, addressed the agitated crowd, urging peace and promising swift action against the brothers accused of blasphemy.

However, the mob proceeded to attack the colony, demanding to execute the two men themselves. Some Christians have accused police of standing back and letting the attacks take place.

Videos posted to social media showed church buildings blazing and the mob destroying and burning furniture pulled from them. Witnesses say they piled up Bibles and set fire to them.

Imran Bhatti, a pastor from Jaranwala, said the mob ransacked and burnt a total of five churches in the area. He said the attackers did not even spare a local Christian graveyard, where graves were vandalised and a portion of its boundary wall demolished. The churches that were burnt were the Salvation Army church, St Paul Catholic Church, the United Presbyterian Church, Allied Foundation Church and Shehroonwala Church.

Minorities Alliance Pakistan PosterYassir Bhatti, a 31-year-old Christian, was one of those to flee their homes. He told AFP news agency, “They broke the windows, doors and took out fridges, sofas, chairs and other household items to pile them up in front of the church to be burnt. They also burnt and desecrated Bibles, they were ruthless.”

A local Christian resident said that families from over 500 homes have fled three Christian settlements.

Separately, a mob torched the office of Shaukat Masih, a Christian assistant police commissioner in Jaranwala.  He was safely evacuated from the scene. Subsequently, the Punjab government removed him from his post and made him an officer on special duty – sources said he was removed to pacify the violent protesters who were pressing the government to immediately transfer him.

In the aftermath of the violence, police arrested one hundred of the suspected rioters. Local authorities have prohibited all kinds of assembly, except for events organised by the government, for seven days. The Punjab provincial government has issued directions to form a high-level inquiry committee to investigate the incident.


Bishop Azad MarshallThere has been widespread condemnation of the sectarian violence from human rights groups inside and outside Pakistan. The Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop Azad Marshall, tweeted: “Words fail me. We, bishops, priests and lay people are deeply pained and distressed at the Jaranwala incident.

“A church building is being burnt as I type this message. Bibles have been desecrated and Christians have been tortured and harassed, having been falsely accused of violating the Holy Quran.

“We cry out for justice and action from law enforcement and those who dispense justice and the safety of all citizens to intervene immediately.”

(CLAAS UK, Al Jazeera, BBC, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Dawn, Guardian, Pakistan Observer, Release International)

Church in Chains has written to the Pakistani Ambassador to Ireland expressing concern about the attacks and asking that the Pakistani government take immediate steps to protect the Christian community and bring the perpetrators of this violence to justice. Church in Chains also asked that the government provide compensation to those whose homes and businesses have been damaged or destroyed and also fund the repair and reconstruction of the church buildings.