On Wednesday, August 16, a mob stormed and vandalised five churches, several homes of Christian families and even a cemetery in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala district.
The violence erupted after some locals alleged that several desecrated pages of the Holy Quran had been found near a house at Cinema Chowk in Jaranwala, where two Christian brothers resided. Soon after, members of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) took the matter into their own hands, inviting people to reach the site of the incident to take action.
Thousands of men gathered, burning down the accused brothers’ home as well as several places of worship in Christian-majority communities. Fortunately, no lives were lost, but hundreds had to evacuate and many reportedly spent the night in the fields, afraid to go back home. Section 144 has since been imposed in Faisalabad and the Punjab Rangers have been called in to maintain peace.
There have been condemnations from various quarters, including leading Islamic scholars, and authorities have promised to bring the perpetrators to book.
But we have been here before. Over the last few decades, we have seen a sharp spike in the incidence of faith-based violence, where Pakistan’s minority communities have borne the brunt of mob brutality, bomb attacks, arsons, lynchings and other forms of violence.
Here, we present a timeline of faith-based acts of violence and incidents of persecution targeting religious minorities in the past year alone. Needless to say, this list is not exhaustive and only relies on the incidents that made their way to the mainstream media.
August 12: Naseer Ahmad, a 62-year-old Ahmadi man was repeatedly stabbed and killed on the spot in Rabwah over his refusal to chant slogans in praise of a far-right Islamic party while waiting at a bus stop for his Friday ritual of paying respects at a graveyard.
August 21: Ashok Kumar, a Hindu sanitation worker, was taken into custody on charges of blasphemy in Hyderabad on Aug 21 for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran. A formal complaint was registered against him under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
Following the allegation, a mob attempted to forcibly enter Kumar’s apartment complex to capture him. The police issued 200 arrest warrants and arrested 42 suspects for involvement in the attack.
Hyderabad SSP Amjad Sheikh claimed that the mob wanted to burn the flats of the Hindu families living in the complex. He added: “Unruly mobs tried to attack temples at four places but police foiled their attempts. We had anticipated such attacks would follow and, therefore, deployed police there”.
September 23: A school expelled four Ahmadi students based on their faith in Punjab’s Attock district.
One of the students had been facing persistent harassment from a classmate. The decision to expel these students was prompted by parents who contacted the school principal, Kulsoom Awan. Tahir Khan, a relative of the students presented a document from the school that explicitly stated: “The following students who were studying in this institute are being withdrawal (sic) on the basis of Qadianiat Religion”.
October 9: In a video circulating on social media, TLP cleric Muhammad Naeem Chattha Qadri urged followers to “chant loud enough to cause the miscarriage of pregnant Ahmadi women. Such a blasphemer should not be born, and those that are, we [will not] leave them alive”.
October 12: Chanda Mehraj, a young Hindu girl, was abducted in Hyderabad. She was abducted while heading back home from the factory where she was employed.
She was later recovered from Gulshan-e-Hadeed and insisted that she was 19 years old and had married out of her own will. Pakistan Darawar Ittehad chairman Faqira Sheva Kachhi claimed that the medical examination established her age as 16 years but the court remanded her custody to Daraul Aman, where her parents were not allowed to meet her.
January 10: An Ahmadi historical place of worship, located in Moti Bazar, Wazirabad, established in 1905, was desecrated by the district police.
Irfan Iliyas Butt, a local representative of the TLP, lodged a formal complaint with the Assistant Commissioner of Wazirabad, alleging that the Ahmadi community had constructed a room that closely resembled a nearby mosque with minarets. He sought action under sections 298-B and 298-C of the PPC.
February 2: An Ahmadi place of worship in Karachi was vandalised. The incident took place in the jurisdiction of Preedy police station when unidentified men, chanting slogans against the community, vandalised the minarets of the worship place. A video of the incident that circulated widely on social media, showed policemen deployed outside the site, failing to keep the mob away.
February 3: In Noor Nagar village of District Umerkot in Sindh, several people entered an Ahmadi place of worship by scaling the outer wall and setting fire to the furniture after dousing it with petrol.
In another attack on the same day, the minarets of another Baitul Zikr in Mirpurkhas were dismantled.
February 11: A mob stormed a police station in Nankana Sahib, Punjab, where a man accused of desecrating the Holy Quran was being held. The mob vandalised the building and lynched the accused.
Prime Minster Shehbaz Sharif ordered a prompt investigation of the incident.
15 April: A Chinese national, who was working as the head of heavy transport at a major hydro-power project in Mansehra, was taken into custody after being accused of insulting the Holy Prophet.
According to locals, the man had complained to workers at the dam that “precious time” was being lost due to prayer breaks and urged them to speed up their pace.
This enraged some of the workers and they fanned out to nearby villages, whipping up emotions. A large frenzied crowd then made its way towards Kamila Bazaar and blocked the Karakoram Highway (KKH), threatening to storm the Dasu Hydropower Project (DHP) site if the Chinese man was not arrested.
“We have arrested the foreigner suspect under blasphemy and terrorism charges and airlifted him from here to present him before the anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Abbottabad,” Mohammad Khalid, the district police officer (DPO) in Upper Kohistan, told reporters.
April 24: Forty-six-year-old Mussarat Bibi, a Christian woman, and Muhammad Sarmad, a Muslim man, were accused of burning pages of the Holy Quran while cleaning the storeroom of the Government Girls Higher Secondary School in Arifwala tehsil of Pakpattan District, Punjab.
The allegations were levelled by Kashif Nadeem, a resident of the town.
Both workers had been told to clean the storeroom which was filled with paper and other scrapped items. The complainant only named the Christian woman. However, the investigation revealed Sarmad to also be involved. Both had not burned the pages intentionally as they were illiterate. The police arrested them to avoid unrest by protesters.
The duo was set free less than a month after the arrest.
May 18: Two Christian teenagers Simon Nadeem, 12, and Adil Baber, 17, were booked under Section 295-C of the PPC. Both boys were arrested after a complaint was made against them by police constable Zahid Sohail, accusing them of disrespecting the Holy Prophet.
Babar’s father informed the media that both boys were in conversation on the street when Sohail picked a fight with them and alleged that they had committed blasphemy. “When elders of the neighbourhood asked Sohail to substantiate his accusation with evidence, he failed to satisfy them and left,” said Babar’s father.
Race Course police later raided the locality and arrested both the boys.
June 10: A 15-year-old Hindu girl was abducted from her home in Benazirabad district, Sindh, and reportedly forced to convert and marry a Muslim.
The victim was kidnapped at gunpoint by her tutor and his aides in front of her mother. Kumari’s father filed a police report, alleging that nine armed men kidnapped his daughter, a student of class-VIII, from his home and also took away Rs100,000 cash and gold jewellery.
The Sindh police recovered Kumari by taking immediate action and presented her in court where she recorded her statement and declared that she wanted to go with her family, following which custody was granted to the family.
June 30: Haroon Shehzad, a 49-year-old Christian man was accused of blasphemy. He shared a Facebook post of the text from the First Corinthians chapter 10 on June 27, two days before Eidul Azha, allegedly questioning the sacrifice of animals, reports Sajjad Abbas, a Dawn News reporter from Sargodha.
Muhammad Imran Ullah, the complainant, reported to be a TLP activist, filed a complaint claiming that Shehzad had committed blasphemy. A case was registered under Section 295-A of the PPC. Announcements were made in mosques and protests were carried out by religious party activists. However, the police was reluctant to give a comment to the media and even refrained the complainant from doing so.
The case has been covered by international news and rights organisations.
July 3: Punjab Police registered five FIRs against members of the Ahmadi community for slaughtering or attempting to slaughter sacrificial animals on Eidul Azha. The FIRs under section 298-C of PPC were registered in Lahore, Faisalabad, Nankana Sahib, and Gojra.
In addition to these FIRs, police officials in some other towns and districts of Punjab barred Ahmadis from offering sacrifice. In a viral social media video, Faisalabad police raided the house of an Ahmadi individual a day before Eid and “recovered” three goats.
The DPO Hafizabad issued an official order, directing all Station House Officers to meet members of the Ahmadi community and make them take an oath to not perform animal sacrifice on Eid.
The action came despite a 2022 judgement of the Supreme Court, ruling that obstructing non-Muslims from practicing their religion within the confines of their place of worship was against the Constitution.
July 5: The construction of an Ahmadi place of worship was halted and the building was sealed by the Sanghar police at the insistence of a mob.
The construction of the house of an Ahmadi leader and the Baitul Zikr had sparked outrage among locals as the architecture of the Baitiul Zikr allegedly included a minaret.
July 8: Sargodha Police arrested a 35-year-old Christian man after a case was filed against him under Sections 295-A and 298 of the PPC.
The charges were brought forward by Muhammad Awais, a local resident, who alleged that Zaki had shared a blasphemous post on Facebook. Despite receiving support from the Imam of the village mosque and other Muslims from the neighbourhood, who confirmed that Zaki’s post did not disrespect any religion, he was taken into custody.
Zaki’s brother explained that the post was written by a Muslim individual criticising those involved in food adulteration. The family believes that the case against Zaki stems from a long-standing land dispute with individuals who continue to harbour grudges, despite attempts at reconciliation through village elders.
July 16: A gang of dacoits attacked a place of worship — reportedly with rocket launchers — belonging to members of the Hindu community in Sindh’s Kashmore. The assailants also attacked adjoining homes belonging to the community in the jurisdiction of Ghouspur police station.
They fired indiscriminately, prompting a police unit led by Kashmore-Kandhkot SSP Irfan Sammo to reach the scene. The police official said that the dacoits fired rocket launchers at the place of worship, which was closed during the attack.
July 25: An Ahmadi place of worship was vandalised in Karachi’s Drigh Road area. Korangi Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Tariq Nawaz said that around four people damaged the minarets.
August 16: Mobs stormed and vandalised five different churches, many homes of Christian families and even a cemetery in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala district following blasphemy allegations.