LAHORE • An angry mob in Pakistan's Punjab province torched a factory after one of its employees was accused of committing blasphemy, police said yesterday.
Hundreds of people surrounded a chipboard factory in Jehlum city on Friday night and set it ablaze after reports that one employee had allegedly desecrated the Quran.
"The incident took place after we arrested the head of security at the factory, Qamar Ahmed Tahir, for complaints that he ordered the burning of Qurans," senior police official Adnan Malik told Agence France-Presse.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan, an Islamic republic of some 200 million, where even unproven allegations frequently stir mob violence and lynchings.
Critics including European governments say the country's blasphemy laws are often misused to settle personal scores.
Police said another employee at the factory had reported that Mr Tahir was overseeing the burning of Qurans in the facility's boiler, and intervened to stop the act.
"We registered a blasphemy case against Tahir, who is Ahmadi by faith, and arrested him after confiscating the burnt material, which also included copies of the Quran," Mr Malik said.
Following the arrest, a mob reportedly descended on the factory, setting it alight.
A spokesman for the local Ahmadi community said three of their members were arrested in the wake of the incident.
"Three members of our community have been arrested by police under the charges of blasphemy. There is an accusation of burning the pages of the Quran," said Mr Saleem Ud Din.
Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims by the Pakistani government in 1974 because of their belief in a prophet after Muhammad.
They are frequent victims of discrimination and violent assaults, but it is rare for suspects to be convicted for attacks against them.
Eleven members of the sect were murdered for their faith last year, and the authorities failed to apprehend any of the killers, a report said in April, highlighting growing intolerance towards the sect.
Pakistan's supreme court last month called on the country's politicians to ensure that hundreds of people facing imprisonment and even execution under controversial blasphemy laws have not been falsely charged, often by enemies wanting to settle personal scores.
The court issued a detailed judgment warning that in Islam a false accusation can be as serious as the blasphemy itself.
Blasphemy is "abhorrent and immoral", the judgment said, according to The Guardian newspaper in Britain, "but at the same time a false allegation regarding commission of such an offence is equally detestable besides being culpable".