Punjab’s caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi has said that Pakistani police have arrested two key suspects involved in the unprecedented attacks on 21 churches and nearly three dozen homes of the minority Christian community on blasphemy charges.

He lauded the efforts of the Punjab Chief Secretary and the Inspector General of Police, saying that both played a key role in ensuring the arrest of key suspects.

An angry mob on Wednesday vandalized and torched 21 churches and 35 houses of Christians in Jaranwala town of Faisalabad district, 130 km from Punjab’s provincial capital Lahore, over allegations of blasphemy.

Naqvi on Thursday took to the social media platform

In a separate post on Friday, he wrote that sermons focusing on the rights of minorities will be delivered in mosques in Pakistan’s Punjab province on Friday.

“Today Friday sermons across Punjab will focus on the rights of minorities, the Holy Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH),” he added.

He said, “Amid challenging times, let us emphasize that such incidents should not be given the color of religion. Inter-religious harmony is one of the basic teachings of Islam. Grateful to religious scholars for their patience and support in exposing them.”

On Thursday, a day after the violence broke out, the Punjab Police arrested at least 140 people and registered five cases.

Among those arrested by the police is the prime suspect, Muhammad Yasin, who was identified through a video in which he was seen making announcements over loudspeakers of mosques to incite Muslims against religious minorities.

Members of the extremist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) were also among those arrested in connection with the violence.

The Jaranwala incident drew widespread condemnation, with national leaders and international organizations demanding justice for those whose homes and places of worship were ransacked and destroyed.

Army chief General Asim Munir on Thursday described the incident as “extremely tragic and completely intolerable” and promised that the perpetrators involved in the attacks would be brought to justice.

“There is no place for such incidents of intolerance and extreme behavior against anyone, especially minorities, by any section of the society,” he was quoted as saying by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the army.

US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters that his country was “deeply concerned” by the targeting of churches and homes in Pakistan in response to reports of desecration of the Quran.

“We urge the Pakistani authorities to thoroughly investigate these allegations and maintain calm,” he said.

Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) chairman Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi apologized for the Jaranwala violence and reaffirmed commitment to protect our Christian brothers, reported Dawn newspaper.

We are ashamed. “We failed to fulfill our responsibility as an elder brother, we apologise,” he said at a press conference here.

In its statement, Amnesty International has demanded that the authorities ensure that [the] Protection of minority Christian community.

Rehab Mahmoor, interim regional researcher for South Asia at Amnesty International, said authorities should also ensure those responsible for arson and attacks on churches and homes are held accountable.

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, where anyone who insults Islam or Islamic figures can face the death penalty. Often an allegation can lead to riots and incite mobs to violence, lynchings and murders.

According to the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), approximately 198 people have been accused of blasphemy as of August 16, 2023, of whom 85 percent are Muslim, 9 percent Ahmadi and 4.4 percent Christian.

It said that Punjab province recorded more than 75 percent of cases of abuse of blasphemy laws over the past 36 years.

The CSJ posted on X that 52 per cent of the total accused comprise minorities, despite their share (3.52 per cent) of Pakistan’s population.

Minorities, including Christians and Hindus, have often been accused of blasphemy and some have been prosecuted and sentenced for blasphemy in Pakistan.

(Only the headline and image of this report may have been reworked by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content was auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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