Pakistan: Anti-Christian violence erupts in Lahore after alleged Quran burning

Anti-Christian violence erupted in a suburb of Lahore, Pakistan yesterday after a Christian man was accused of burning pages from the Quran, which is considered an act of blasphemy.

Humayun Masih, the man who allegedly burnt the Quran, has been described as mentally unstable.

Rev Riaz Arif of St Joseph Church, Sanda in the west of Lahore, told BosNewsLife: "Hamyun who is mentally unstable and a drug addict was burning some newspaper with holy verses."

Arif added that Masih was spotted by some Muslims, reported to the police and taken for questioning.

Sayed Zeeshanul Haq, who was among those who reported the incident to the police, told the Express Tribune: "Many people gathered on the spot and some of them even tried to burn him alive, however, we saved him and handed him to the police."

There have been contradictory reports of the incident and the wider attacks on the Christian community, though several accounts suggest that a number of homes in Sanda, where Masih lives, have been looted by a large mob of protestors.

The police also reportedly prevented the mob from setting fire to a church, and many Christians in the area have left their homes in fear.

"The police intervened promptly, and managed to avoid mass violence," Shane Cecil Chaudhry, executive director of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops of Pakistan told Fides news agency. "Today the rangers patrol the area and the situation is completely under control."

Chaudhry warned not to be alarmist about the situation, adding that no one had been injured in the incident.

This is not the first time that an accusation of blasphemy has led to violence against the wider community. In March 2013 more than 100 homes were burned in a Christian community in Lahore after one of the residents was accused of blasphemy.

Fr James Channan, director of the Peace Center in Lahore, told Fides: "It is a cliché that is repeated: accusations of blasphemy, to be verified, followed by mass violence... Christians are terrified because they can suddenly be attacked.

"According to the blasphemy law, there is a procedure to be respected and no one must be allowed to take the law into his hands. Institutions and the police must ensure security and justice. On the other hand we can work to combat the culture of hatred that extremist groups spread in society, working for dialogue and harmony."

There were violent protests in Lahore in March this year after two suicide bomb attacks on churches killed 17 people. Christian leaders in Pakistan have called on the government to ensure better protection for religious minorities. Christians make up less than 2 per cent of the majority-Muslim population.