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In this photo provided by the district police office, a police officer pours water into a burning house in a Christian neighborhood following an angry mob attack in Jaranwala near Faisalabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023. (District Police Office via AP)

Mob Attacks Christian Suburb in Pakistan, Senate Passes Bill Increasing Punishment for 'Blasphemy'

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A Muslim mob on Wednesday stormed a Christian suburb in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province, burning one church, damaging two others, and demolishing the house of a man after accusing him of desecrating the pages of Islam's holy book, police said.

The attack happened in the district of Faisalabad in eastern Punjab province, local police chief Rizwan Khan said. He said the mob attacked the Christian colony after some of the Muslims living nearby accused a local Christian, Raja Amir, and his friend of desecrating pages of the Quran.

An 84-second video clip of the attack released by The Associated Press showed a mob cheering several men who were throwing furniture and other items out of a church building's second-story window to the ground below. 

Another video of the attack released by the AP shows an angry mob in front of a local church building as black smoke rises from it.  A member of the mob is seen on top of the building, trying to bring down a pedestal holding up a cross. Meanwhile, fires have been set both inside and outside of the building.  Another scene from the video shows members of the mob throwing the belongings of the accused Christian onto a fire burning outside of his house. 

slider img 2Mohsin Iqbal, a local resident, called on the police to take action to stop the attacks. 

"One-or-two people involved in the blasphemy does not mean we punish a whole community," he said. "We appeal to the government, police, and chief minister of Punjab to take strict action against those involved in this, because Muslims are being hurt due to this act."

Police Chief Khan said the accusations angered Muslims who had begun gathering there, and the demonstrators then started attacking multiple churches before they were dispersed by police swinging batons. Authorities are trying to restore order with help from elders and clerics in the area of Jaranwala where the attack happened, he said.

Police still say they are registering cases against those who allegedly desecrated the Quran.

He said all those Muslims who were involved in the attacks on churches and the properties belonging to Christians would also be traced and arrested. "Our first priority was to save the lives of all of the Christians. We have deployed additional police at the Christian colony," he said.

Christian Watchdog Sounds Alarm Over Measure to Increase Punishment for Blasphemy

Meanwhile, Christian minority groups have expressed concern about a bill passed by Pakistan's legislature increasing punishment for offenses against those who "blaspheme" Mohammed, and in the process, will fail to safeguard minority rights.  

The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2023 was passed in Pakistan's Senate on Aug. 7, according to the U.K.-based persecution watchdog Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

The act increases the punishment for insulting the Prophet Mohammed's companions, wives, and family members from three years to life imprisonment. Those sentenced under the law would have to spend at least 10 years in prison. 

Minority groups and other communities in Pakistan warned the legislation could fuel rights abuses and be used to further target religious minorities when it was first approved by the National Assembly last January.

These groups have also expressed their concerns that the government has ignored their calls and a plea from the Human Rights Minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada who in a letter to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in February requested that the bill be revisited and reversed.

"CSW is deeply disappointed by the passage of the Criminal Amendment Act 2023, given the overwhelming evidence of how the existing blasphemy legislation has resulted in extra-judicial killings and countless incidents of mob violence based on false accusations. Making the blasphemy laws more stringent could inflame the situation further and is the opposite of what is needed," CSW's Founder and President Mervyn Thomas said in a press release. 

"Pakistan must do more to protect its most vulnerable minority communities," Thomas added. 

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As CBN News has reported, under Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting Islam or Mohammad can be sentenced to death. These laws are poorly defined and require low standards of evidence. Although no one has ever been executed for blasphemy, dozens of people have been killed by mobs for just being accused of it, and many other lives have been ruined.

The blasphemy laws are often used as a weapon of revenge against both Muslims and non-Muslims to settle personal scores or to gain the upper hand in disputes over money, property, or business.

Pakistan is listed as No. 7 on Open Doors' 2023 World Watch List of countries where it is dangerous to be a follower of Jesus Christ. The country was listed as No. 8 on the list last year. 

On Nov. 20, 2022, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken re-designated Pakistan as a "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for severe violations of religious freedom. 

Pakistan was listed in the State Department's release of the 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom in May. 

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