Christian homes torched by Pakistani mob
Dozens of Christian homes were torched by a mob of hundreds in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Saturday, after a Christian man was accused of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammad.
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Two prominent politicians were assassinated in 2011 for urging reform of the law. The killer of one of the politicians was hailed as a hero, and lawyers at his legal appearances showered him with rose petals.Skip to next paragraph
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According to Human Rights Watch, there are at least 16 people on death row for blasphemy and another 20 are serving life sentences.
Last year there was a rare reversal of a blasphemy case. A teenage Christian girl with suspected mental disabilities was accused of burning pages of the Quran. But she was later released after a huge domestic and international outcry about her treatment. A local cleric where she lived was arrested and accused of planting the pages in her bag to incriminate her, a rare example of the accuser facing legal consequences. However, he was later freed on bail.
While Muslims are frequently accused of blasphemy, members of Pakistan's small Christian community are especially vulnerable to the accusations, said the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Zora Yusuf. Only in Christian cases will violent mobs punish the entire community for the perceived crime of one Christian.
She said often these blasphemy cases are personal grudges or disputes masquerading as religious fervor.
"Most of the time there are other motives involved," she said, such as scaring off Christian residents to grab their property.
The chief minister of Punjab province, Shahbaz Sharif, quickly condemned the incident and said investigators will use video footage of the rampage to identify the guilty and make arrests. He also said he was removing a number of high-ranking police officers.
But the Punjab government has frequently been criticized by human rights groups for essentially tolerating the type of religious extremism that often leads to this type of violence and the Sunni Muslim extremists who often whip up anti-minority sentiment.
"The Punjab provincial government has spent almost its entire 5-year term in office being in denial about threats to minorities," said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director of Human Rights watch in a statement.
Also on Saturday, four people were killed and 25 were wounded when a bomb exploded inside a mosque of the Sunni Barelvi sect in the northwestern city of Peshawar. The bomb was planted in a bookshelf inside the mosque and was detonated by remote control when noon prayers started, said senior police officer Imtiaz Khan.
Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has been the site of several terrorist attacks in recent months. The city is surrounded by lawless tribal regions where al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban have hideouts.
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