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Dozens of Christian homes set on fire by Muslim mob, Pakistani authorities say

From Nasir Habib, CNN
updated 2:18 PM EST, Sat March 9, 2013
An angry Pakistani demonstrator torches Christian's belongings in Lahore during a protest over a blasphemy row.
An angry Pakistani demonstrator torches Christian's belongings in Lahore during a protest over a blasphemy row.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dozens of Christian homes are set afire by Muslims
  • The mob is outraged over alleged anti-Muslim remarks
  • Sawan Masih has been arrested and charged with blasphemy

(CNN) -- The arrest of a Christian man accused of making remarks against the Muslim prophet Mohammed wasn't enough to appease an angry mob in Pakistan this weekend.

More than 100 homes of Christians were set on fire by outraged Muslims in the Badami Bagh community in Lahore on Saturday after police arrested Sawan Masih, a Christian in his mid-20s accused of speaking against Mohammad, officials said.

"Mob wanted police to hand them over the alleged blasphemer," said Hafiz Majid, the senior police official in Badami Bagh.

The mob also looted some shops run by Christians, he said.

Majid said Christians have fled the area for fear of being killed.

If convicted, Masih faces the death penalty. He denies the allegations made by the two men who filed the blasphemy complaint against him with police on Friday, Majid said.

Masih says the three got into an argument while drinking and that the other two men threatened to publicly accuse him of blasphemy, according to Majid.

"The attack is yet another shameful incident against a vulnerable community and further confirmation of the slide toward extremism in society on the one hand and, on the other hand, the apathy and inaction that has become the norm among the police," the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in a statement.

The group accused police of arresting Christians in the incident "while those who went on a rampage and can easily be identified from television footage have gone scot-free."

Pakistan's blasphemy laws were first instituted to keep peace between religions. But they have been criticized by human rights advocates who say the laws enable legal discrimination against religious minorities. At time, the laws have been misused to settle personal differences between Muslims and Christians.

There have been about 1,400 blasphemy cases since the laws were first enacted in 1986, according to U.S.-based Human Rights Watch. There are more than 15 cases of people on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, and more than 50 people have been killed while facing trial for the charge, according to the organization.

Last year, a Pakistani court dismissed blasphemy charges against a Christian teenager whose case prompted international outrage.

Her detention stirred up religious tensions in the predominantly Muslim country. It also generated fierce criticism of Pakistani authorities and renewed debate over Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

President Asif Ali Zardari issued a statement Saturday on the most recent "unfortunate incident." He noted that the country's constitution protects the rights of all Pakistani's, and that "such acts of vandalism against minorities tarnish the image of the country."

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