Sunday, March 10, 2013

Thousands of angry Muslim protesters have set ablaze more than 100 houses of Pakistani Christians over a blasphemy row in the eastern city of Lahore

Over 3,000 Muslim protesters turned violent over derogatory remarks against the Islamic Prophet Mohammed supposedly made by a young Christian, Sawan Masih, 28, three days earlier, police official Multan Khan said. The exact number of houses in Joseph Colony, a Christian neighborhood in Badami Bagh area, were not immediately known but police and rescue officials said that they belonged to low to middle-class families from the minority community. "Police arrested Masih, a sanitary worker, on Friday night while the incident actually happened on Wednesday evening," Khan said. He said that the arrest was made when Masih's barber friend Shahid Imran complained that he had made blasphemous remarks about the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, adding that Christians had fled the area, fearing a backlash. Protesters began to assemble in the area and later set on fire houses and other items including furniture, crockery, auto rickshaws, bicycles and motorbikes belonging to local Christians. Dr Ahmad Raza, in-charge of local rescue operations, and the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) put the number of houses burnt at more than 100. "At least 160 houses, 18 shops and two small churches were burnt by protesters," Raza, who was busy in rescue operations in the area, said. Expressing grief and anger at the attack, HRCP chairwoman Zohra Yusuf put the number of houses burnt during the protest at over 100. Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97% of the population are Muslims, and allegations of insulting Islam or the Muslim Prophet Mohammed can prompt violent outbursts of public anger, even when unproven. The laws came under the international spotlight in August 2012 when 14-year-old Christian girl Rimsha Masih was held for three weeks in a high security prison for allegedly burning pages from the Koran. Muslims only believe in freedom of religion for Muslims and no one else.

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