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Pakistan arrests members of anti-Christian mob, but convictions rare

Upset over an alleged blasphemy incident, a mob in Lahore destroyed at least 50 Christian homes over the weekend. Such violence against religious minorities is rarely punished in Pakistan.

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Pakistani Christians chant slogans after they burn a tire during a demonstration demanding that the government rebuild their homes that were burned down following an alleged blasphemy incident, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Sunday. The incident in Lahore began on Friday, after a Muslim accused a Christian man of blasphemy, an offense that in Pakistan is punished by life in prison or death.

Anjum Naveed/AP

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Christians and civil society activists across Pakistan took to the roads on Sunday demanding government protection for the rising persecution of religious minority communities, which make up less than 5 percent of the country.

The protests come a day after hundreds of Muslims rampaged inside a Lahore neighborhood of at least 50 Christian homes. The rioters apparently were outraged over accusations that a local Christian from the area had committed blasphemy. The accused blasphemer had already been arrested the night before, and the Christians in the area fled the same night in expectation of violence. 

The police have arrested dozens in connection to the rioting. But campaigners for religious minorities here note that arrests after past incidents have almost never led to punishments, and the blasphemy law that enables communal unrest remain on the books. 

“This current government passed many constitutional amendments during the last five years but did not touch the blasphemy law, even though everyone in the Parliament was on board for the revisions in the Constitution,” says Nadeem Anthony, a lawyer in Lahore who defends those facing a possible death sentence under the law. 

Three of Mr. Anthony’s relatives living in the Lahore neighborhood were displaced by the destruction.  

“Instead of protecting them and their homes, the police told the Christians to flee from the area,” claims Anthony, who visited the Lahore locality on Sunday with his relatives from the area.

Many locals corroborate this, saying that despite knowing of tensions in the area since Friday, the police did not swing into action until late Saturday. On Sunday, under heavy police deployment, some of the affected families who are currently living with their relatives elsewhere in the city visited the locality to measure their losses.

Anthony says the government has done almost nothing in response to past attacks on Christians. To date, no one has been convicted in the 2009 attacks on Christians in Gojra that left at least nine dead and dozens of houses destroyed. Similarly, the Muslim cleric who tried to falsely frame a Christian girl of blasphemy last year was ultimately released after being arrested. 

Law enforcement authorities say that arrests are being made in connection to this weekend's mob attack. 

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