07/02/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Hundreds of Muslims attack about a hundred Christian homes in Punjab

by Qaiser Felix
Mob sets fire to a number of houses, burns cars and destroys electrical installations. The incident is caused by a quarrel between a Muslim and a Christian which degenerated into a riot with petrol bombs, beatings and acid throwing.

Kasur (AsiaNews) – A mob of some 600 people attacked about a hundred Christian homes in Bahmani, a village in Kasur district in Punjab. The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church in Pakistan reported the incident, saying that the violence caused major damages to a number of homes. The attackers also stole valuables (gold jewellery and cash).

The incident occurred on Tuesday. A cleric in a local mosque accused the Christians of blasphemy inciting his fellow Muslims to attack the Christians. However, according to the NCJP the real reason for the attack lies elsewhere, in events that occurred a day earlier.

Speaking to AsiaNews NCJP member Irfan Barkat said the trouble began on Monday when two men, one Christian, the other Muslim, quarrelled. The Muslim, Muhammad Riaz, was riding his bicycle and found himself on the path of Sardar Mashi, a 38-year-old Christian who was driving his tractor. When Mashi asked Riaz to move to let him pass, the latter refused and this turned into a quarrel between the two men. Later the Muslim turned to his local Muslim religious leader, saying the Christian had blasphemed. .

The following night Muslims stormed the Christian section of the village, targeting about a hundred houses, setting some on fire with petrol bombs. A mob of about 600 Muslims attacked Christians with sticks and acid, torching cars and motorcycles parked in the streets as well as electricity meters.

Yesterday, a committee made up of six Christians and Muslims met to deal with the issue and find a way to pacify relations between the two communities. They set themselves a four-day deadline for a solution, Irfan Barkat said.

Incidents like the one in Bahmani are frequent in Punjab province. Usually violence by Muslims is justified by blaming would-be victims of blasphemy.

According to the NCJP, a total of 892 people have been charged with blasphemy since 1986.

Under Section 295 B of Pakistan’s Criminal Code, insulting Muhammad or Islam, or desecrating the Qur‘an, is punishable by life in prison or death.

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