Police have arrested around 150 people accused of burning dozens of Christian people’s houses in eastern Pakistan after a non-Muslim was accused of making offensive comments about Islam’s prophet Mohammed.
It came as Christian demonstrators blocked a main highway in Lahore and police fired tear gas shells to disperse the protesters, who demanded assistance from the government.
Government spokesman Pervaiz Rasheed promised it would help them rebuild their houses, but the Christians expressed dissatisfaction with the way the government was handling the incident.
“I have been robbed of all of my life’s savings,” Yousuf Masih said, standing close to his burned house. He said the government’s announcement that it would give 200,000 rupees (£1,300) compensation to each family was a joke.
The incident began on Friday after a Muslim accused a Christian man of blasphemy – an offence that in Pakistan is punished by life in prison or death. On Saturday, a mob of angry Muslims rampaged through the Christian neighbourhood, burning about 170 houses.
The Christian man is in police custody pending an investigation into the allegations.
Those who rioted are being investigated for alleged arson, robbery, theft, and terrorism, said police officer Abdur Rehman.
The Pakistani police usually arrest rioters to assuage public anger, but those accused are rarely convicted. The law is often misused to settle personal rivalries.
Akram Gill, a bishop in the Lahore Christian community, said the incident had more to do with personal enmity between two men – one Christian and one Muslim – than blasphemy.
He said the men got into a brawl after drinking late one night, and in the morning the Muslim man made up the blasphemy story as payback.
Such accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan can prompt huge crowds to take the law into their own hands. Once an accusation is made it is difficult to reverse, partly because law enforcement officials do not want to be seen as being soft on blasphemers.