Lahore: 150 people have been arrested in Lahore after a mob of nearly 2000 people attacked Christian families. The mob had torched over 150 homes of the minority Christian community in search of a man who had allegedly committed blasphemy.
Christians in Pakistan closed missionary schools on Monday to protest against Saturday's incident. The suspects were charged under various laws, including the Anti-Terrorism Act, for attempted murder, robbery, arson and terrorism, police officials said.
Judge Irfan Saeed directed police to produce the suspects in court on March 15. Police officials said the other suspects were being questioned and would be presented in court later.
The suspects were identified from photographs and video footage of the attack. A total of 83 suspects had been named in the FIR, police said. Christian organisations closed scores of missionary schools in Punjab and Sindh provinces to protest the torching of some 160 homes and two churches at Joseph Colony.
The Christian schools are among the best in Pakistan and are popular even with Muslims in cities and urban areas as they provide education in English. "Missionary schools in Lahore will remain closed on Monday on account of the violence in Joseph Colony," Bishop Sebastian Shaw told reporters.
Sadiq Daniel, bishop of the church of Pakistan in Sindh, said all missionary schools in the southern province would be closed on Monday. Schools were also closed in cities and towns of southern Punjab that have a sizeable Christian population.
Policemen were deployed to guard churches and Christian neighbourhoods in several cities, including Multan and Quetta. The trouble began on Friday after a Muslim man accused Savan Masih, a 26-year-old resident of Joseph Colony, of insulting Prophet Mohammed.
The next day, over 3,000 Muslims rampaged through the neighbourhood and looted homes before burning them. There were no casualties as police had forced the Christians to vacate the neighbourhood but the incident triggered protests across the country.
Life was affected by the protests at some places on Sunday. Savan Masih was arrested under the controversial blasphemy law even though a senior police officer said a preliminary probe had shown that he was falsely accused.
Several residents of Joseph Colony and a police official told the media that Masih and Shahid Imran, the Muslim man who accused him of blasphemy, had an argument on Wednesday after getting drunk. Local residents and Christian leaders said the men who attacked Joseph Colony were incited by traders and politicians who had been eyeing the land in the neighbourhood.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan though rights groups say the blasphemy law is often used to persecute minorities like Christians and to settle personal scores. Civil society groups and some politicians have called for reforms in the law, which includes the death penalty.
(With Additional Inputs From PTI)