On August 16, Christian homes and churches were attacked by violent mobs in the industrial district of Jaranwala in Pakistan. The violence was spurred by the alleged desecration of the Quran by a young Christian man.
Violent mobs wreaked havoc on the community after a mosque loudspeaker allegedly encouraged the retaliation. Hundreds of Muslims looted homes and set fire to or damaged nearly 22 churches in the Christian community.
At least 129 people have been arrested in connection with the attacks, and Christians have called on the government to investigate the allegations and the ensuing violence. It is not the first time that allegations of blasphemy have been used as fodder to prompt violence against religious minorities.
According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), “Blasphemy cases remained a substantial threat to religious freedom, as did the sort of mob violence that has long accompanied such accusations.”
Despite promises from local authorities to rebuild homes and churches and an announcement that the Punjab government will launch an investigation, Christians are still living in fear.
As Archbishop Benny Travas of Karachi said, “Once again, we have the same old condemnation and visits by the politicians and other government officials expressing their solidarity with the Christian community and promises that ‘justice will be done,’ but in reality, nothing materializes, and all is forgotten.”
Earlier this year, USCIRF again recommended that Pakistan be classified as a Country of Particular Concern, which is defined as a nation that has “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
In Pakistan, religious minorities are at risk of frequent attacks and threats. Muslims make up more than 96 percent of the country (85 percent to 90 percent Sunni, 10 percent to 15 percent Shi’a, and 0.2 percent Ahmadi), with Christians composing 1.6 percent of the population, Hindus representing 1.6 percent, and Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’is, and Zoroastrians making up less than 1 percent of the nation’s population.
As USCIRF noted in its latest report, religious minorities have endured accusations of blasphemy, killings, lynchings, mob violence, forced conversions, sexual violence, and religious property desecration.
In 1956, Pakistan was established as an Islamic Republic and its constitution later established Islam as the state religion. Today, discriminatory blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws subject religious minorities to the threat of persecution for their beliefs. According to USCIRF, “Religious minorities, however, were especially vulnerable to prosecution or violence based on blasphemy allegations in a society that has grown increasingly intolerant of religious diversity.”
Christians are especially vulnerable to such abuses because of their faith. Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List ranked Pakistan the seventh worst country in the world where Christians face extreme persecution. Approximately one-quarter of blasphemy accusations in Pakistan are brought against Christians, according to the organization.
Further, as the influence of radical Islam rises in the country, USCIRF reported that “These laws have enabled and encouraged radical Islamists to operate with impunity, openly targeting religious minorities or those with differing beliefs, including nonbelievers.”
The latest attacks are further evidence of the daily discrimination and fear that Christians and other religious minorities endure in Pakistan.
In the wake of the recent destruction, Archbishop Travas said, “We, as a Christian community, have time and again displayed our fidelity to the nation of Pakistan, yet incidents like the burning of Christian homes in Gojra, Shantinagar, Joseph Colony, and now Jaranwala, show that we are in reality second-class citizens who can be terrorized and frightened at will.”
The recent attack against Pakistan’s Christian community brings attention to the trials faced by religious minorities and demands that the international community condemn the country’s despicable violations against religious freedom.