JARANWALA – More than 100 arrested after churches burned on Wednesday

More than 100 people have been arrested in the Punjab province of Pakistan after thousands of Muslims burned churches and vandalised homes.

Violence in Jaranwala was sparked by claims that two Christian men had torn pages from a copy of the Quran.

The historic Salvation Army Church was still smouldering on Thursday, one day after the riot.  Ruins have been surrounded with barbed wire as the situation remains tense in the city.  Public gatherings have also been restricted for seven days in Faisalabad district, which includes Jaranwala.

The two men accused of damaging the Quran, Islam’s holy book, have been arrested and are being investigated for blasphemy, which is punishable by death in Pakistan.  While some have been sentenced to death, it has never been carried out.   However a mere accusation of blasphemy can result in widespread riots, sometimes leading to lynching and killings.

It is said that authorities had received calls about protests and fires early on Wednesday morning, after reports about the desecration of the Quran circulated in the city and on social media.   Authorities said torn pages of the sacred text with blasphemous content allegedly scribbled on them in red marker ink were found near a Christian community.   The reports sparked outrage among the Muslim community, and the violence that ensued saw mobs attacking and looting private homes belonging to Christians.   Victims told Safe Cities that belongings of Christians were pulled into the streets and set on fire.  Many were forced to flee their homes.

Victims homes were vandalised, items broken or stolen and then set ablaze.

Usman Anwar, the police chief in Punjab province, was asked by the BBC why – according to some eyewitness accounts – in some cases, the police did not appear to try to stop the protestors.  He said that law enforcement did not want to escalate the tension in case it led to loss of lives.  He also confirmed the arrest of over 120 people for their involvement in the unrest.  Police identified them through social media videos.  The police chief added that five cases have been filed against hundreds of people suspected of being responsible for the violence.  More arrests are expected once the identification process is concluded.

Amir Mir, the information minister for Punjab province, condemned the latest alleged blasphemy and said in a statement that thousands of police had been sent to the area, with dozens of people detained.   The angry group was mostly made up of people from an Islamist political party called Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a government source told Reuters.  The TLP has denied any involvement.   Caretaker PM Anwar ul-Haq Kakar called for swift action against those responsible for the violence.

Pakistani bishop Azad Marshall, in the neighbouring city of Lahore, said the Christian community was “deeply pained and distressed” by the events.

“We cry out for justice and action from law enforcement and those who dispense justice, and the safety of all citizens to intervene immediately and assure us that our lives are valuable in our own homeland,” he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Emmanuel Tufail visiting victims church.

Emmanuel Tufail, a pastor who visit the area regularly said:  “I couldn’t hold back my tears as I visited Christian Colony, Cinema Chowk, and Essa Nagar in Jaranwala.  The majority of our brothers and sisters in this area are now homeless.”   He reported that 24 churches and 250 residences owned by Christian families have been looted and then set on fire.  “They used chemicals to set their churches, houses, businesses and vehicles on fire”, he said.   “The belongings of two orphan sisters, who don’t even have a third person in their family, had spent years collecting for their marriage, were stolen and the rest set on fire.  Many victims are still crying out in terror and unable to speak clearly”.

The churches in other areas are doing their best to accommodate the family displaced.  Many are in need of food, medical care and accommodation.

Safe Cities has set up a special fund to assist the Church in Jaranwala.  Donations may be deposited into the following account.  Safe Cities will facilitate assistance to victims.


Zoé Pillay – Safe Cities Media

Photographs by Emmanuel Tufail.