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Pakistani brothers accused of blasphemy released

They were detained on suspicion of defacing the Holy Qur’an in Jaranwala where a mob vandalized Christian homes and churches
Residents stand amid debris beside the torched Saint John Church in Jaranwala on the outskirts of Faisalabad on Aug. 17, 2023, a day after an attack by Muslim men following allegations that Christians had desecrated the Koran

Residents stand amid debris beside the torched Saint John Church in Jaranwala on the outskirts of Faisalabad on Aug. 17, 2023, a day after an attack by Muslim men following allegations that Christians had desecrated the Koran. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 02, 2024 05:27 AM GMT
Updated: March 02, 2024 05:34 AM GMT

Two brothers accused of blasphemous acts that sparked a mob in Pakistan to ransack homes and churches in a Christian enclave last year have been freed from jail, their lawyer said March 1.

More than 80 Christian homes and 19 churches were vandalized by crowds in the eastern city of Jaranwala last August after accusations spread that a Koran had been desecrated.

Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and its Prophet Mohammed have provoked deadly vigilantism.

While police rounded up more than 125 suspected rioters, they also detained two Christian brothers on suspicion of having defaced a Koran -- a violation of Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws which can carry the death penalty.

But the brothers' lawyer Tahir Bashir told AFP they had been freed after an anti-terror court declined to bring their case to trial on Feb. 29.

"Without a trial, no suspect can be detained indefinitely in jail," Bashir said, declining to publicly name his clients out of fear for their safety.

"They are free, they are with their family. They were very happy to be released," he added.

Hundreds of Christians fled Jaranwala's Christian quarter last summer when rioters surged in, setting churches ablaze and raiding homes.

At its peak the crowd numbered around 5,000 and was spurred by mosque loudspeakers announcing a Koran had been torn, scrawled with offensive words, and stuck to the walls of a local mosque.

Christians, who make up around two percent of Pakistan's population, occupy one of the lowest rungs in society and are frequently targeted with spurious blasphemy allegations.

Politicians have also been assassinated, lawyers murdered and students lynched over such accusations.

Last week, police were forced to intervene in the eastern city of Lahore when a woman wearing a shirt adorned with Arabic calligraphy was surrounded by a mob accusing her of blasphemy.

The crowd of men said the clothing depicted the Koran but it was emblazoned with the Arabic word for "beautiful".

The woman issued an apology for causing offense, but none of the men were arrested.

Pakistan's top Supreme Court judge has also been targeted by veiled death threats recently after ordering the release of a man accused of disseminating a blasphemous text.

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