Pakistan blasphemy riots erupt following mosque-ordered protests
In the wake of recent violence stemming from allegations of blasphemy by Christians, Pakistani authorities are investigating a group of individuals, including a Muslim cleric, for their involvement in inciting protests through mosque loudspeakers.
The demonstrations, which spiraled into mob violence, resulted in the vandalization of over 80 Christian homes and 19 churches within a Christian neighborhood in Jaranwala, Punjab province.
Reports of a desecrated Koran were propagated from mosques, with one cleric urging followers to take action for Islam. While condemning the violence, Punjab police chief Usman Anwar acknowledged that gathering people in such an already charged environment could lead to uncontrollable situations.
The cleric, along with 11 others, is under investigation for using mosque loudspeakers, while more than 125 individuals have been arrested due to advanced methods like facial recognition technology, mobile phone geo-fencing, and data analysis from social media.
At its peak, the neighborhood witnessed an influx of more than 5,000 people from different districts, triggering widespread destruction. Despite some Christian residents being sheltered by Muslim neighbors, criticisms have been directed at the police for not adequately safeguarding the affected area.
Religious leaders’ negotiations helped to restore calm after the violent clashes. In an effort to reassure the Christian community, over 3,200 churches were guarded by police across Punjab province.
Blasphemy accusations are highly inflammatory in Pakistan, where unproven allegations of insulting Islam can provoke vigilante attacks. Religious minorities are particularly vulnerable, facing threats and violence. While the anger towards blasphemy is understood, authorities stress that violent reactions are unjustified. They emphasize the need for religious leaders and the government to promote tolerance and ensure that religion is not exploited for violent purposes.