Human rights groups in and outside Pakistan are condemning as “brutalization and barbarism stooping to new lows” a mob assault on a minority Muslim community that left at least three people dead and burned many of their houses. Attacks against minorities have spiked in the country in recent months.
Police in the eastern city of Gujranwala say the violence erupted late Sunday, after claims a member of the minority Ahmadi community had posted blasphemous material on Facebook.
Local police say the dead included a 55-year old woman and her two granddaughters. Several other women and children are reportedly under treatment in a local hospital for “serious burn injuries.”
A spokesman for the Pakistani minority community has rejected the blasphemy allegations as “completely false,” alleging “local police stood by and watched the massacre.” Police have denied the charges.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has condemned the incident as “shocking and disgusting.” It has demanded authorities conduct a thorough probe to find out why police failed to prevent the mob attack.
The commission added that torching women and children in their houses simply because of their faith represents “brutalization and barbarism stooping to new lows.”
Mustafa Qadri of London-based Amnesty International says it demands that those responsible for the “deeply shocking” violence be brought immediately to justice.
“It seems like in this case either the police were unable to or unwilling to protect the community and because of that people died and many people were injured," he said. "And that just demonstrates firstly the failure of the Pakistan state to protect people from these situations, but also the risk of the blasphemy laws to the law and order and social cohesion in Pakistan.”
Rights activist blame among other things the country’s blasphemy laws for growing violence, particularly against Pakistani minorities. They maintain the laws are used indiscriminately against Muslims and non-Muslims and violate the basic human rights of freedom of religion and thought.
Sunday’s attack is said to be the worst violence against Ahmadis in Pakistan since simultaneous extremist raids on their places of worship four years ago killed nearly 90 members of the community.
Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, but Pakistan laws declared them non-Muslims in the 1980s, a primary reason observers cite for violent attacks against the community.