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A mob of some 3,000 Muslims set fire to approximately 178 Christian homes and two churches in the Joseph Colony of Lahore on 9 March following accusations that Sawan Masih, a Christian sanitation worker, had made derogatory remarks about the Muslim prophet Mohammed. Masih had allegedly made the blasphemous comments on Wednesday during a dispute on religious issues with Shahid Imran, a Muslim, while the men “were drunk,” said local resident Altaf Masih.

The violence began after Friday prayers when about 100 Muslims pelted Masih’s house with stones and beat his elderly father. After the mob had gathered, Masih was taken into police custody and charged with blasphemy under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s Penal Code. Hundreds of Christians fled the area later that night in fear for their safety. On Saturday, thousands of Muslims returned to the area and attacked Christian-owned houses, shops, and two churches. No Christians were reportedly injured, but their possessions were stolen or destroyed during the raid.

Thousands of Christians in Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad protested the violence on Sunday, accusing the police of failing to protect the Christians of Joseph Colony while also condemning the country’s blasphemy laws. Though the Pakistani government claims it instituted blasphemy laws to seek religious harmony through uniformity, in practice blasphemy laws provide cover for personal vendettas against religious minorities. Approximately 1,400 blasphemy cases have been registered since the law was first enacted in 1986, according to Human Rights Watch. There are at least 16 people currently on death row, including several Christians, in Pakistan for blasphemy, and 20 serving life sentences. If convicted, Masih could be given the death sentence. Source: International Christian Concern