JHELUM: An enraged mob set a Ahmadi place of worship on fire in Punjab's Jhelum district on Saturday, following Friday night's arson attack on a factory.
The place of worship was located in the Kala Gujran area of Jhelum, which was under guard of local police forces.
The mob managed to break through the police cordon which was established to safeguard the Ahmadi places of worship, following Friday night's unrest.
Police had to resort to baton charging and tear gassing the protesters in order to bring the situation under control, but were unable to do so. The mob resorted to pelting stones at the police personnel.
The incidents were a result of rumours circulated earlier in Jhelum district which levelled blasphemy allegations on the owner and workers of the factory.
Army contingent called in
As tensions rose, a contingent of the Pakistan Army was called in to assist the local police forces.
After the arrival of the army contingent, the situation calmed down, with the mob chanting slogans in favour of the army.
Lieutenant Colonel Khurram of the Pakistan Army negotiated with the mob.
Factory set on fire
Earlier, an enraged mob set a factory on fire in Jhelum district late on Friday after rumours circulated in the area and announcements were made from mosques levelling blasphemy allegations on the factory owner and workers. No casualties were reported from the arson attack.
Hundreds of people surrounded the chipboard factory in Jhelum and set the facility ablaze after reports surfaced that one employee had allegedly desecrated the Holy Quran.
“The incident took place after we arrested the head of security at the factory, Qamar Ahmed Tahir, for complaints that he ordered burning of the copies of the Holy Quran,” Adnan Malik, a senior police official in the area, told AFP.
According to police, another employee at the factory had reported that Tahir was overseeing the burning in the facility's boiler and intervened to stop the act.
“We registered a blasphemy case against Tahir, who is Ahmadi by faith, and arrested him after confiscating the burnt material, which also included copies of the Holy Quran,” Malik said.
Four other men who were previously arrested on suspicion of blasphemy were reportedly released by the police, DawnNews reported.
After this, certain people in the area approached local mosques to make announcements through loudspeakers against the release following which people not only from the immediate vicinity but even from nearby villages gathered as a mob and set ablaze the chipboard factory.
The owner’s residence, adjoining the factory, was also set on fire.
The mob later moved to the Grand Trunk Road, blocked the route and chanted slogans against the police. Members of the mob also clashed with police personnel as the latter tried to disperse the crowd.
Police fired rubber bullets and fired tear gas shells at the mob, members of which resorted to aerial firing. Three men were reportedly injured in this unrest. However, there were few policemen on the scene who thereby failed to control the situation.
Also read: Supreme Court on blasphemy
District Police Officer (DPO) Mujhaid Akbar Khan reached the location and tried talking to members of the mob but that did not yield any results.
Subsequently, armed forces’ personnel were called in and GT Road was opened for traffic some six hours after the disturbance.
A spokesman for the local Ahmadi community said three of their members were arrested in the wake of the fire.
“Three members of our community have been arrested by police under the charges of blasphemy,” Saleemuddin told AFP
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan, with even unproven allegations often prompting mob violence and killings.
Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims by the Pakistani government in 1974.
Ahmadis have been arrested in Pakistan for reading the Holy Quran, holding religious celebrations and having Quranic verses on rings or wedding cards. Four years ago, 86 Ahmadis were killed in two simultaneous attacks in Lahore.
Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law does not clearly define blasphemy but says the offence is punishable by death. Anyone can file a blasphemy case claiming their religious feelings are injured for any reason.
The accused are often lynched, and lawyers and judges defending or acquitting them have been attacked. Rights groups say the laws are increasingly used to seize money or property.
Eleven members of the sect were murdered for their faith in 2014 and authorities failed to apprehend any of the killers, a report said in April, highlighting growing intolerance toward the community.