Documenting the destruction on Wednesday, a leader in the Protestant Church of Pakistan, Bishop Azad Marshall, described the Christian community in Jaranwala as “deeply pained and distressed.”
“A church building is being burnt as I type this message,” Marshall wrote. “Bibles have been desecrated and Christians have been tortured and harassed having been falsely accused of violating the holy Quran.”
Words fail me as I write this. We, Bishops, Priests and lay people are deeply pained and distressed at the Jaranwala incident in the Faisalabad District in Pakistan. A church building is being burnt as I type this message. Bibles have been desecrated and Christians have been… pic.twitter.com/xruE83NPXL
— Bishop Azad Marshall (@BishopAzadM) August 16, 2023
Blasphemy laws fan flames of anti-Christian hate
The attacks in Jaranwala come after the passage of new blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
Current Pakistani blasphemy laws mandate life in prison for defiling or insulting the Quran while the punishment for defiling the name of Muhammad or other Muslim prophets is death.
The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act of 2023, passed by both houses of the Pakistani Parliament but not yet signed into law, would further increase the punishment for insulting any wife, family member, or companion of Muhammad to life in prison.
Kiri Kankhwende, a representative for CSW, told CNA that most likely “these attacks don’t have a link to the passage of the new blasphemy law amendments, which still hasn’t received presidential approval” and is not yet in force.
Nonetheless, Kankhwende said that “we have seen this pattern before” and that “this may be a case of blasphemy laws being used to settle personal scores.”
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After the passage of the new blasphemy laws, Mervyn Thomas, CSW president, warned that there is “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,” Thomas said in his statement.
Christians charged with violating blasphemy laws
Amid the attacks in Jaranwala, police have filed reports against two Christian residents, Rocky Masih and Raja Masih, for allegedly breaking Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, according to CSW.
CSW also said that “local residents expressed their belief” that “if police had acted in time, the situation would not have escalated.”
“The government has since called for additional police contingents from other cities and summoned the Rangers, federal law enforcement, to subdue the mob,” CSW said. “Exit and entry points to the city have been sealed while Christian institutions and churches in adjoining cities have been closed in an attempt to avoid further attacks.”