A cleric is among a dozen people being investigated for using mosque loudspeakers to order protests against alleged blasphemy by Christians which erupted into mob violence in Punjab earlier this week, a senior police official said.
More than 80 Christian homes and 19 churches were vandalised when hundreds rampaged through a Christian neighbourhood in Jaranwala on Wednesday.
Reports that a copy of the Holy Quran had been desecrated were broadcast from mosques, with one cleric telling his followers it was “Better to die if you don’t care about Islam”.
“That cleric should have understood that when you gather people in such a charged environment… in a country in which people were already very sensitive about (blasphemy) it is like adding fuel to fire,” Punjab IGP Usman Anwar told AFP during an interview.
Read more: Christian brothers arrested for blasphemy
“He’s not saying that go and burn their houses. But when the mob gathers, it’s really impossible to control that.”
He said the cleric was one of 12 people who were being investigated for using mosque loudspeakers, while more than 125 people have been arrested linked to the vandalism that followed, thanks to the use of facial recognition technology, mobile phone geo-fencing and data gathered from social media.
At its peak, more than 5,000 people had poured into the neighbourhood from other districts, with smaller mobs spreading to narrow alleys where they ransacked homes.
Christians who fled in their hundreds have criticised police for failing to protect their property, with some sheltered by their Muslim neighbours.
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“If police had started baton charging, or attacking (the mob) or tear gassing that would have resulted in multiple injuries or deaths. And that is what we were avoiding at that time. That would have aggravated the situation that would have spread in all the country,” Anwar said.
Negotiations with religious leaders led to calls for calm, he added.
Two Christian brothers have been arrested for blasphemy. Anwar said he personally interrogated the pair to avoid the possibility of accusations of torture.
Anwar said that while the anger towards blasphemy may be justified, the violent reactions were not, describing the scenes in Jaranwala as “tragic”.
He said it was the role of clerics and the government to ensure that religion was not misused.
“The most important thing is that we, the Muslims, in this country, are going to become more tolerant. Once we are given the true message of Islam, that is the role of the government,” he said.