Pakistan arrests scores over Lahore anti-Christian riot

A rioter burns a cross in Lahore, 9 March Christian families had already fled when the rioters struck

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Police in the Pakistani city of Lahore have made 150 arrests after Muslims torched dozens of Christian homes in response to an allegation of blasphemy.

Government officials and emergency teams are examining the damage in the city's Joseph Colony area to see how people can be helped, police said.

The Christians had already fled their homes when the mob struck on Saturday.

Christians gathered in Lahore and Karachi, the country's biggest city, to protest at the attack.

They condemned the violence and called for better protection as well as compensation for those affected.

Christians make up about 1.6% of Pakistan's mainly Muslim population.

Allegations of blasphemy against Islam are taken very seriously with a number of controversial recent prosecutions.

Compensation

Police said two friends, a Muslim and a Christian, had apparently become involved in a drunken argument, with the former accusing the latter of a blasphemous comment.

It appears that a crowd of Muslims went from a mosque on Friday to the house of the Christian man.

The man was taken into police custody in a bid to pacify the crowd while hundreds of Christians fled their homes.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws

  • After partition in 1947 Pakistan inherited offences relating to religion which were first codified by India's British rulers in 1860
  • In the 1980s clauses were added to the laws by the military government of General Zia-ul Haq
  • One clause recommends life imprisonment for "wilful" desecration of the Koran, another says blasphemy is punishable by death or life imprisonment
  • Muslims constitute a majority of those booked under these laws, followed by the minority Ahmadi community
  • A majority support the idea that blasphemers should be punished, but there is little understanding of what religious scripture says as opposed to how the modern law is codified

On Saturday, a mob began ransacking and burning their houses.

A police officer, Abdul Majid, said later on Saturday that one group had taken it upon themselves to dispense justice.

"Last night, after arresting the man [accused], I told everyone that I had arrested him and there was no need for any agitation but one group insisted that I should hand him over to them," he said.

"That group is responsible for all this."

Suspected rioters were arrested after police viewed TV footage of the attacks.

Pervez Rashid, a spokesman for the Punjab provincial government, told Geo television the suspects "would be tried in anti-terrorist courts".

Punjab police said four officers had been removed from their posts for "negligence".

One Christian man whose house was torched, Jani Masih, asked why innocent Christians were being punished for one man's alleged crime.

"What is our fault?" he asked AP news agency.

"What have we done? We could have been held responsible if we had done anything. This is cruel."

Christians held small rallies after the violence to demand an inquiry.

Father Peter John, from the Church of St Patrick in Karachi, urged the government to "see also that the people who are affected, their properties are burnt... get some sort of compensation".

Mr Rashid told Geo TV that each family would get 200,000 rupees ($2,050) and their homes repaired.

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