Mob in Pakistan sacks Hindu temple over blasphemy row

A screengrab image shows men vandalising a Hindu temple in Rahim Yar Khan on Aug 5, 2021. PHOTO: DAWN NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

LAHORE (AFP) - Dozens of people attacked a Hindu temple in central Pakistan over blasphemy allegations, police said on Thursday (Aug 5), in the latest incident of religious-fuelled violence targeting a minority group in the Islamic republic.

Police said the mob attacked the temple in Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab province on Wednesday afternoon following the release on bail of a young Hindu boy accused of blasphemy.

"Some 70 to 80 protesters then attacked and smashed the windows of the temple," Mr Ahmed Nawaz, a police spokesman from the district, told Agence France-Presse.

The boy had earlier been arrested over rumours that he committed blasphemy, a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan where insults against Islam and Prophet Muhammad carry harsh prison sentences and the death penalty in some instances.

Such allegations are explosive and often result in furious outcries among large ultra-conservative groups in the Islamic republic.

Videos circulating on social media showed a group of men ransacking the temple, using iron bars to destroy portions of the property.

"The damage isn't too extensive. The building has been partially damaged," said Mr Riasat Ali, a local administration official, adding that security forces had been deployed to protect the local Hindu community in the area.

The country's strict blasphemy laws have in the past been disproportionately used against religious minorities, including the Christian community, with critics arguing they are frequently abused to settle personal scores.

Discrimination and violence against religious minorities is commonplace in Pakistan, where Muslims make up 97 per cent of the population and Hindus comprise around 2 per cent.

The attack was just the last in a string of assaults on Hindu places of worship in recent years, including an attack late last year that saw around 1,500 people overrun and set fire to a temple in north-western Pakistan.

The uptick in violence comes as leaders in Pakistan and India have been locked in an increasingly harsh war of words, with both sides accusing the other of inflaming religious sentiments to target minorities in their respective countries.

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