Lahore: A drunken row between two friends was the trigger for blasphemy allegations that prompted a mob of angry protesters to burn more than 100 Christian homes, police and witnesses said.
More than 3,000 Muslims rampaged through Joseph Colony, a Christian area of the eastern city of Lahore, on Saturday after allegations that a Christian had made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed three days earlier.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97 per cent of the 180 million population are Muslims, and even unproven allegations can trigger a violent public response.
Police said they had arrested more than 60 people over Saturday’s attack.
Sawan Masih, a Christian sanitary worker, was arrested on Friday after his Muslim friend Shahid Imran complained he had made blasphemous remarks about the prophet. The arrest prompted many Christians to flee, fearing a backlash.
The senior police official for the area, Multan Khan, said Masih and Imran had been friends for many years.
“They used to sit together and drink together almost every evening. They were drunk on Wednesday when they had some arguments,” Mr Khan told reporters on Saturday.
It was during the argument that Masih allegedly made the blasphemous remarks, Mr Khan said.
Local resident Altaf Masih, also a sanitary worker, said “while they were drunk they had an argument over discussion on religious issues”.
Spokeswoman for Punjab police Nabila Ghazanfar said four senior officers including Khan had been removed from their posts for “negligence” and “failure to control” the mob.
Ashrafi, president of Pakistani Ulema (religious scholars) Council, condemned the attack saying Islam did not permit such violence.
“Resorting to arson on mere speculations is immoral, illegal and Islam does not allow this,” he said.