Karak, Pakistan, Dec 31 – At least two dozen people, including several Muslim clerics, were detained Thursday after a mob attacked and set fire to a Hindu temple in northwest Pakistan, police said.
Around 1,500 Muslims on Wednesday descended on the temple — which was destroyed in similar circumstances in 1997 — after staging a protest against renovations at an adjoining building owned by Hindus.
The temple is located in a remote village in Karak district, some 160 kilometres (100 miles) southeast of Peshawar.
“We have arrested 26 people including local clerics for destroying a place of worship and inciting people to riot”, local police official Fazal Sher told AFP.
He added police were looking for a further 50 people identified from videos of the attack.
Discrimination and violence against religious minorities are commonplace in Pakistan, where Muslims make up 97 percent of the population and Hindus around two percent.
Irfanullah Khan, the district police chief, also confirmed the arrests.
He told AFP that a house adjacent to the temple was recently bought by the Hindu community and was being renovated, which offended locals.
Hindus have not lived in the area since the partition of British-ruled India in 1947 when Pakistan was created, but Hindu devotees occasionally visit the temple and the tomb of the Hindu saint Shri Paramhans, who according to Hindu faith died in the village in 1919.
“These people have brought a bad name to our area and tarnished the image of the state,” one local resident, Ameen Pashteen, told AFP.
In Karachi, the capital of Sindh province and where the majority of the country’s Hindus live, more than 200 people protested outside the Supreme Court calling for justice.
“You must respect other people’s religion. We are Pakistanis, and for God’s sake, nobody needs to give us a certificate of loyalty”, said Mangla Sharma a Hindu member of Sindh’s provincial assembly.
Gopal Kamuany, president of the Pakistan Hindu Council, accused local authorities of standing by as the attack happened.
“In the video of the attack, the administration is just watching silently as the mob dismantles the temple. What kind of justice is that”, Kamuany said.
Earlier this month, the United States placed Pakistan on a list of “countries of particular concern” for religious freedom violations.
“The destruction of the Hindu temple in Karak is yet another example of persistent discrimination faced by the beleaguered Hindu community in Pakistan”, said Rimmel Mohydin, Pakistan campaigner at Amnesty International.