Police last week saved a Christian couple from a mob in Pakistan that attempted to kill them for allegedly committing blasphemy, the latest such violent incident in the country.
“Muslims of the town gathered there and dragged the poor couple who didn’t know what they had done. They were being beaten to death,” local police chief Sohail Zafar Chattha said, according to Agence France Presse.
The attack took place in the village of Makki in Punjab province June 30.
The couple, who are both illiterate, used as a sleeping mat an advertisement awning that bore college slogans. These slogans allegedly included Arabic inscriptions from the Quran. A local barber and two clerics accused the couple of committing blasphemy, and a mob gathered in an attempt to lynch them.
After the couple was rescued from the mob, the two were moved to Lahore and placed with a Christian community.
One of the clerics has been arrested. Some residents told police that the barber may have been interested in acquiring the accused couple’s house, Agence France Presse reports.
Christian human rights lawyer Nadeem Anthony praised the police intervention, saying continued enforcement would discourage “the elements who take the law into their own hands.”
The Legal Evangelical Association Department, an interdenominational Pakistan-based Christian human rights NGO, on July 2 described Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws as “continually misused” against “the poor and defenseless Christians of Pakistan.”
Blasphemy accusations have prompted several other violent incidents.
Over 100 people have been charged for the November 2014 murders of a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan, a city nearly 40 miles southwest of Lahore. The couple were accused of desecrating the Quran and angry villagers detained them at the brick kiln where they worked. The villagers reportedly told them to convert to Islam to make amends for their alleged crime. The couple were killed and their burned bodies were discovered in the kiln. Reports differed over whether they had been burned alive.
In Lahore in May a mob attempted to attack a young mentally ill Christian man following claims he burned newspapers with pages containing verses of the Koran. Police protected him, but the mob then attacked Christian homes and places of worship, including a church.
Pakistan’s state religion is Islam, and around 97 percent of the population is Muslim. The nation has adopted blasphemy laws which impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad.
The blasphemy laws are said to be often used to settle scores or to persecute religious minorities; while non-Muslims constitute only 3 percent of the Pakistani population, 14 percent of blasphemy cases have been levied against them.
Many of those accused of blasphemy are murdered, and advocates of changing the law are also targeted by violence.
In 2011 the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, a Muslim critic of the blasphemy laws, was assassinated. Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic and the only Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet, was also assassinated the same year by militant supporters of the blasphemy laws.