Police in Jaranwala have arrested a man identified as Yaseen who used a mosque’s loudspeaker to provoke people to attack the Christian neighborhoods and churches.
A Police spokesperson said he was identified after a video of him speaking on the loudspeaker went viral on the internet.
Over 100 people were arrested after mobs vandalised multiple churches and attacked homes belonging to the Christian community after the Holy Quran was allegedly desecrated in Jaranwala town of Punjab’s Faisalabad district on Wednesday, the interim government said.
The Jaranwala police registered a complaint of alleged desecration of the Quran against two men on Wednesday. Images on social media showed crowds of hundreds armed with sticks and rocks storming through the streets, with smoke rising from church buildings.
Reports claimed that at least two or three different places of worship were attacked and vandalised by the mob following rumours of blasphemy of Islam. Videos on social media showed men tossing out the church’s contents and hammering down the cross on the top of the building after climbing to the roof.
Hours after the riots began, mobs were still on the roads and tensions in the city ran high. Paramilitary Rangers were called in to assist the police in restoring order.
Two men are accused of uttering insulting words and desecrating the Holy Quran in Cinema Chowk of Jaranwala, according to the complaint. The first information report invoked sections 295-B (defiling, etc., of Holy Qur’an) and 295-C (use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet) of the Pakistan Penal Code.
Jaranwala’s AC Shaukat Masih has also been suspended. He claimed his office was attacked as well.
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar also condemned the incident, saying he was ‘gutted’ by the visuals’ received from Jaranwala.
“All law enforcement has been asked to apprehend culprits and bring them to justice. Rest assured that the government of Pakistan stands with our citizenry on equal basis,” he told Bishop Azad Marshal as he responded to a tweet by the religious leaders on X, formerly Twitter.
What sparked the violence
The police have registered an FIR for desecration of the Holy Quran under the county’s blasphemy laws meant to protect all religions.
The FIR was registered when social media posts went viral showing some people allegedly desecrating the Quran.
A charged mob then gathered in the city’s Cinema Chowk, where they made off towards Isa Nagri, the main Christian settlement.
There were claims that the police were reluctant to arrest the accused named in the FIR.
The FIR says that the complainant found pages of the Quran with offensive words written on them.
Faisalabad police called on citizens to remain calm as the FIR of the incident had already been registered.
But the mob vandalised multiple churches and looted homes in the vicinity as well.
Father Khalid Mukhtar, who is in charge of the churches in Jaranwala, claimed that six churches were targeted by the mob.
Mukhtar claimed that his own residence, the Parish Pastor House, had also been attacked. He said protestors stayed outside his residence for two hours and he barely managed to get away with his family.
Mukhtar also claimed that he called the police multiple times but they did not come to help.
Yasir Bhatti, a 31-year-old Christian, fled his home in a narrow alley next to one of the churches that was ransacked by the mob.
“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,” he told AFP by phone.
In one video, crowds cheer and demand punishment for the accused blasphemers as a cross is torn from the top of a church.
Over 100 arrested
The caretaker Punjab government has ordered conducting a “high-level” inquiry into the violence. The interim provincial setup mobilised peace committees in the city after the incident while other parties also condemned the violence.
The Holy Quran was desecrated and the sentiments of Muslims were hurt under a planned conspiracy, a statement from the provincial government’s statement said. The investigation was under way.
The police have claimed to have arrested more than 100 people and footage of the incident was available with the police.
It claimed that the administration took timely action and an announcement was also made from the mosques that action was being taken against those responsible. But it added that the alleged desecration had already provoked a mob of 5,000 to 6,000 people who gathered in different areas of the city and attacked a minority community.
The statement alleged that the police foiled the attack in many places but several buildings were damaged by the charged mob. “No party is in favour of damaging any property of the minority community,” the government said as it highlighted the condemnations from peace committees and members of all parties.
“The incident is being investigated scientifically.”
(With input from AFP)