Riots broke out in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province on Monday after a Hindu doctor was arrested on charges of blasphemy when a local cleric filed a police report against him.
According to local media, Dr. Ramesh Kumar was taken into custody after the head cleric of the local mosque, Maulvi Ishaq Nohri, filed a police complaint claiming that he had ripped pages of the Qu’ran and used them to wrap medicine.
After hearing about the arrest, Islamic extremists responded by setting fire to Hindu-owned shops and attacking the police station where he was being held. Mirpur Khas police officer Javed Iqbal has since told the BBC that those involved in the attacks would be charged, adding that they had “neither love for Islam nor for their neighbors.”
One activist told newspaper Dawn that the man’s family now fear for their safety and that some villagers are guarding their property to protect them. According to a police source who spoke with BBC Urdu, the doctors maintain that the process is “all a mistake.”
Zahid Hussain Leghari, the Station House Officer of the local police station, confirmed that the case had been filed against the doctor under sections 295-A of Pakistani law, which criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Leghari assured that he was in a secure location and that a proper investigation would be carried out. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan are some of the strictest in the world, which make it difficult for religious minorities to practice their faith without fear of reprisal. Those found guilty can face life in prison or death. Last December, a Pakistani court sentenced two Christians in Punjab region to death after they posted material deemed offensive to Islam on their website.
According to statistics obtained by the Lahore-based advocacy group Center for Social Justice, at least 1,472 people have been charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2016.
Pakistan’s Sindh province is home to many of the country’s Hindu population, who represent the country’s largest religious minority. Many have fallen victims to religious discrimination and persecution at the hands of the Muslim majority, forcing them to leave their homeland for India where Hinduism remains the most popular and widely practiced religion.