A mob of hundreds stormed a Christian-dominated neighbourhood in this eastern Pakistani city in search of an alleged blasphemer, forcing residents to flee for their lives, police officials said on Saturday.
Over 2,000 enraged Muslims gathered around Joseph Colony at Noor Road on Friday afternoon and pelted stones and bricks at the homes of some 150 Christian families. The mob was led by one Shafiq Ahmed, who claimed he was looking for a Christian named Savan alias Bubby as he had allegedly committed blasphemy.
Though the mob could not trace Savan, some men found his 65-year-old father Chaman Masih and assaulted him. They then burnt Savan's home, police told the media. Members of the mob tried to burn other houses in the neighbourhood, forcing local residents to flee. They also damaged the car of a Christian pastor who had come to the area to assess the situation.
The violence began at 1 pm and ended only in the evening when a large police contingent was deployed at the spot. Police officials pacified the mob by registering an first information report against Savan under the controversial blasphemy law.
The police took Savan’s father into custody. Shahid Imran, named as the complainant in the FIR, alleged that Savan had uttered blasphemous remarks about the Prophet Mohammed in the past but he had ignored them.
On Thursday, Savan again allegedly made blasphemous remarks, Imran claimed. When Imran told his friend Shafiq Ahmed about the matter, he picked up a knife and went to Savan's house.
Savan was not at home and his relatives said they would hand him over to Ahmed when they found him. The next day, Ahmed gathered other men and went to Savan's house. Muslim residents of nearby areas joined the group after Friday prayers and the situation went out of control as the mob swelled.
Rights activists have said that Pakistan’s blasphemy law is often misused to persecute minorities such as Christians and to settle personal scores. Last year, Rimsha Masih, a mentally challenged teenage Christian girl, was framed for blasphemy by a Muslim cleric in Islamabad.
The girl was later exonerated by a court but she and her family had to go into hiding.