Pakistani Catholics attend a prayer service on Christmas Day at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore. (Photo: AFP)
Hundreds of Pakistani Christian families fled a Lahore neighborhood ahead of Christmas after a mob of Muslims threatened to set fire to their homes, an international Christian group has reported.
The mob threatened the Christians in Charar after a local pastor posted a faith-based message on social media angering Muslims, reported Washington-based International Christian Concern (ICC).
"Pastor Raja Waris published a faith-based post on Facebook on Dec. 22 which Muslims claim hurt their religious sentiments," Saleem Khokhar, a displaced Christian from Charar, told the group.
"The pastor apologized for the post, and the issue was resolved the next day."
No blasphemy charges have been filed against Pastor Waris, according to ICC's Dec. 27 press release. However, the pastor and his family have gone into hiding after local extremists threatened them.
"The situation turned dangerous when someone found out the Muslims were planning to set fire to the houses of Christians," Khokhar told ICC. "This forced Christians to flee the neighborhood."
The administration deployed police but violent protests continued, forcing many Christians to seek shelter with friends and relatives.
"This is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration," Khokhar told ICC. "But we are out of our homes and begging our relatives and friends to protect and feed us."
Muslims frequently use Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws because of religious hatred and even to settle personal scores. Blaspheming against Islam warrants the death penalty under existing law.
Between 1986 and 2007, Pakistani authorities charged 647 people with blasphemy offenses, published records show.
More than 50 percent of those charged with blasphemy were non-Muslims, who form less than 3 percent of Pakistan's 210 million people.
No judicial execution for blasphemy has ever occurred in Pakistan, but some 20 people charged with blasphemy were murdered.
Currently, 24 Christians are imprisoned on blasphemy charges and face 21 different cases at various stages, the ICC release said.
William Stark, ICC regional manager, called on the Pakistani authorities to protect Christian homes in Charar.
"No one should be forced to flee their home because of a social media post. Pakistan's blasphemy laws must not be misused to justify mob violence," he said.
"Too often, these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minority communities."