Protesters seize Ahmadi mosque in Pakistan after blasphemy rumour

Pakistani firefighters stand in a burnt-out factory torched by an angry mob in Jehlum.
Pakistani firefighters stand in a burnt-out factory torched by an angry mob in Jehlum.AFP

LAHORE/KARACHI (REUTERS) - Angry protesters attacked and occupied a mosque belonging to the minority Ahmadi sect in northeastern Pakistan on Saturday, a day after they torched a factory in response to rumours an Ahmadi employee had committed blasphemy.

The Interior Ministry said the police and army had been deployed to the Jehlum district, 164km north of the city of Lahore and that there were no casualties.

Ahmadis consider themselves Muslim but face fierce opposition from among Pakistan's Sunni Muslim majority.

They are victims of violence and discrimination, and frequently face blasphemy charges, a crime punishable by death in Pakistan.

Punjab provincial police said the situation in Jehlum was under control, but police said it was still negotiating with local religious leaders and demonstrators to bring the standoff at the mosque to an end.

Amir Mehmood, a member of the Ahmadi community, said hundreds of people had surrounded and torched chipboard factory in Jehlum on Friday evening after Sunni Muslim mosques announced reports that someone at the factory had allegedly desecrated the Koran.

"A mob attacked our mosque in Kala Gujran, an area in Jehlum, took out its furniture set on fire. Then, they washed the mosque and later offered evening prayers in the mosque," Mehmood said.

Ahmadis believe that a prophet came after the Prophet Muhammad, who in Islam is revered as the last of God's messengers.

They make up approximately three million of Pakistan's 180 million population.

In 1984, a Pakistani law declared them non-Muslims and made it possible to jail Ahmadis for "posing as a Muslim" or "offending a Muslim's feelings".

Mujahid Akbar, a police officer in Jehlum, confirmed the attacks appeared to have been sparked by a blasphemy accusation but said the facts were not yet clear.

"It might be a blasphemy case, but all that was done may also be because of a misunderstanding," he said.