In eastern Pakistan, hundreds of Muslim men set fire to churches, vandalized a Christian cemetery and homes, following blasphemy accusations.

Hundreds of Muslim men set fire to churches and vandalized Christian homes during a rampage in eastern Pakistan on Wednesday, officials said, after Christians were accused of blasphemy.

The mob made its way through a predominantly Christian area on the outskirts of the industrial city of Faisalabad after allegations spread that the Koran had been desecrated.

Police and rescue officials said at least four churches had been set on fire, while residents said as many as a dozen buildings with church status had been damaged.

(Photo by Ghazanfar MAJID / AFP)

Several thousand police have been sent to secure the area, and dozens of people have been detained, Amir Mir, the information minister for Punjab province, said in a statement that condemned the alleged blasphemy.

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures can face the death penalty.

The boundary walls of a Christian cemetery were vandalized, as well as the local government office, as crowds demanded action from the authorities, police said.

According to videos posted on social media, local Muslim leaders used mosque loudspeakers to urge their followers to demonstrate.

Christians, who comprise around two percent of the population, occupy one of the lowest rungs in Pakistani society and are frequently targeted with spurious and unfounded blasphemy allegations that can be used to settle personal vendettas.

“The frequency and scale of such attacks, which are systematic, violent and often uncontainable, appear to have increased in recent years,” The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said on Wednesday.

“Not only has the state failed to protect its religious minorities, but it has also allowed the far right to permeate and fester within society and politics.”

Miroslava Salazar, with AFP