A violent Muslim mob torched an Ahmadi place of worship in Punjab’s Jhelum district on Saturday, following Friday night’s arson attack on a factory owned by a member of the Ahmadi minority community.
The place of worship was located in the Kala Gujran area of Jhelum and was under police security when the mob managed to break through the cordon and set the establishment on fire. Police resorted to baton charging and tear gassing the protesters in order to bring the situation under control, but were unable to do so as the violent mob retaliated by pelting stones at the security personnel.
The violent riots ensued after rumours circulated late on Friday that a worker at the chipboard factory had allegedly desecrated the Holy Quran.
As tensions rose, a contingent of the Pakistan Army was called in to assist the local police.
Factory set on fire:
“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.
After this, some 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, some of whom fired into the air. Three men were reportedly injured in this unrest.
District Police Officer (DPO) Mujahid 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.
“Ahmadi families have fled the area to save their lives, leaving their houses at the mercy of the unbridled mob.”
Further, the spokesperson added that the incident occurred in the presence of the police, which was unable to control the enraged mob.
Saleemudin further added that a wave of fear has gripped the community. “If the police does not take stern action against the perpetrators, there are chances of them burning down the houses of the Ahmadis too,” he said, while pointing out that none of the attackers have been arrested so far.
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.
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.