By Martin Roth, BosNewsLife Senior Special Correspondent with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos and Xavier P. Williams reporting from Pakistan
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife) Several people were injured when anti-Christian mob violence broke out again in the Pakistani city of Lahore, the scene of suicide bombings against two churches in March that killed 17 worshippers.
Christians in the area told BosNewsLife that angry Muslims, some armed, opened fire, ransacked churches, destroyed homes and attacked residents. Many Christians were reportedly fleeing the area.
The latest incident on Sunday May 24 rocked the suburb of Sanda, in the west of the city, after local Muslims accused a Christian youth of burning pages of the Koran, deemed a holy book by Muslims.
Police were seen using tear gas against the mob. Several officers were injured, according to witnesses.
Reverend Riaz Arif of the St. Joseph Church in Sanda said that troubles began when "a christian man, Humayun Masih, was accused of burning the Koran."
Sunday afternoon, "Hamyun who is mentally unstable and a drug addict was burning a newspaper with holy verses," he said.
"Some Muslims at the spot caught him. A mob took him to the Gulshan e Ravi police
station for a [First Information Report] IFR," required to start a criminal investigation, the church leader added.
Priest John Arshad from the local Dhup Sarri Catholic Church said he learned about the violence after Sunday mass. "I received the news that a Christian man has been attacked by a mob and taken to the police station," he explained.
He said he soon saw a mob attacking a church. "They were throwing away everything they could get their hands on," he told BosNewsLife. "I heard gun shots."
Qasim Masih, another resident of the area, also claimed he heard shooting. "The situation has been very tense. Humayun Masih is in police custody, there are gun shots and the mob is still roaming around," Masih explained.
Christians complained that local authorities were slow to intervene, but witnesses also said that police used tear gas against the mob. Several officers were reportedly injured and security forces were patrolling the area.
"The Christians of the area were already warned and informed about the attack by police and they locked their homes and fled away to save their lives," said Sardar Mushtaq Gill, who leads the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) group.
"The enraged mob attacked Christians homes and they broke windows, doors and electric meter reading equipment. They also looted household things," added Gill, who visited the area.
He told BosNewsLife that the mob, "forcibly entered the Catholic St.Joseph Church and they wanted to torch the building. Timely intervention by police and rangers prevented that..."
At least one police officer was injured in that incident he said. "Now the situation is under control [there] but still many homes are locked."
Lahore Christians said the situation remained tense. “I just got back; houses are ransacked; all Christians fled," said local journalist Asif Aqeel. "The situation remains tense despite a police presence there."
Rights activists say Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have contributed to an atmosphere of hatred as it makes it easier for Muslim mobs to "fabricate" evidence against Christians.
In its 2015 World Watch List of countries where Christians reportedly face persecution, the Open Doors advocacy group notes that Pakistan's "notorious blasphemy laws continue to have devastating consequences for minorities, including Christians."
Pakistan-based rights groups Life For All Pakistan and Masihi Foundation told BosNewsLife that they condemn "another act of misuse of the blasphemy law."
They stressed that "It is sad to see that a mob attacks the weak and demands the burning of
a man who is mentally unstable."
The groups said activists "don`t want to witness another extra judicial killing in the name of religion, as we have already saw enough bloodshed and have carried enough bodies."
The rights activists told BosNewsLife that 2015 "has so far been the most violent in terms of sectarian violence and attacks on the minorities in Pakistan."
They urged authorities "to intervene and ensure the safety of the religious minorities as Lahore has already witnessed the loss of lives..." in previous attacks.
Other groups are suffering as well, said LEAD leader Gill. He recalled a May 13 "terrorist attack on a bus carrying members of the Ismaili Community for worship, killing 47 women and men in the metropolitan city of Karachi."
Militants riding three motorbikes later fled after killing the passengers near Safora Goath and injuring more than a dozen, Gill told BosNewsLife, citing local government sources. The Ismaili community is a "peaceful community like Christians in Pakistan and it is sad that
they are also under attack now when Christians have been the target of terrorists," he added.
Gill, a devoted Christian who himself was nearly killed in attacks, told BosNewsLife that his group demands "adequate security for religious minorities in Pakistan" including the Ismaili community and Christians who he said face "massacres" and other violence.
(This is a BREAKING NEWS development. Stay with BosNewsLife for updates. Martin Roth is BosNewsLife's Senior Special Correspondent as well as its Senior Columnist and a known journalist and author, covering the challenges of our time. Journalist Xavier P. Williams is in Pakistan reporting for BosNewsLife where he also works as a leading rights activist. BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos reported from the BosNewsLife newsroom).