Punjab police foil a new anti-Christian attack over false blasphemy claims
The story unfolded in the village of Dhok Syedan coming close to what happened in mid-August in Jaranwala, where 26 churches and over 200 houses were destroyed, when a convert to Islam tried to extort a Christian family. Strong "latent fears" and a widespread feeling of vulnerability prevail among Christians.
Rawalpindi (AsiaNews) – A bogus accusation of blasphemy made to hide an attempt to extort money almost triggered a new attack against Christians like the one that saw the destruction of over 200 houses and 26 churches in Jaranwala almost two weeks ago.
The unusually quick intervention by police averted another tragedy, but left unresolved the issue of the distorted use of the laws that punish those who desecrate the Qurʾān or insult the Prophet Muhammad.
Such acts are legally punished with life imprisonment or the death penalty but, in several cases, they have led to extrajudicial killings (even in prison) as well as attacks by angry mobs against defenceless people and unprotected targets.
The latest story took place in Dhok Syedan, a village located near Sheikhpur and Mohra Hayat, Rawalpindi (Punjab).
Local sources say that an attempt by a convert to Islam to extort a local family created the conditions that might have led to the destruction of Christian homes.
In order to sow confusion and incite residents, the convert threatened local Christians and urged Muslims to attack properties owned by Christians, most of whom were completely unaware of the blackmail attempt.
In this case, the prompt intervention by police nipped in the bud the threat and prevented a tragedy, but it confirmed once again the urgency of politically and legislatively reforming the blasphemy legislation and addressing its abuse.
The incident also sparked outrage among religious and civil leaders, who slammed the terror in which Christians often live in and stressed the need to improve intercommunal coexistence and harmony.
In an interview, Rev Liaqat Masih, a local Protestant clergyman, said that, “We had already alerted the city management, and their prompt response was vital. Residents are gripped by fear, and many have left their homes as a precautionary measure.”
Federal Human Rights Minister Khalil George visited the village. “Rumours of this nature are designed to incite tension between Muslims and Christians. We must remain vigilant and not succumb to unfounded rumours,” he said.
Police Superintendent Muhammad Waqas Khan was also present; he met with residents stressing that the latter should refrain from reacting to baseless rumours, which can only sow unnecessary panic.
“The harrowing incident in Jaranwala has sent shockwaves throughout the Christian community nationwide,” said Juliet Chowdhry, a trustee with the British Asian Christian Association. This “underscores the latent fears harboured by Christians, who often feel vulnerable.”
“The assertion that Christians should simply disregard baseless rumours is oversimplistic, especially given the existing evidence that underscores the perilous consequences such rumours can entail,” she explained.
“These falsehoods have been shown to inflame radicalised individuals, fanning the flames of intolerance within certain segments of the Muslim population and contributing to an already volatile atmosphere,” she added.