A Pakistani boy accused of blasphemy has been taken in to protective custody, after his release on bail sparked attacks on a Hindu temple in the country.
The boy, 8, a member of the minority Hindu community, reportedly entered a mosque in the village of Bhong, in eastern Rahim Yar Khan district in Punjab.
After being reprimanded by a local cleric, Muhammad Ibrahim, the boy involuntarily urinated on the carpet.
The next day Mr Ibrahim registered a case against the boy for urinating in a place where religious books are kept.
He was arrested on blasphemy charges, which can carry the death penalty in Pakistan.
The boy was released on bail last Wednesday after a week in custody, which angered conservative Muslims in the area.
A crowd of about 150 people later set the main gate of the temple on fire and damaged religious statues inside.
Footage on social media showed an angry crowd vandalising the Hindu temple with iron bars and sticks.
Fearing backlash, authorities placed the boy in protective custody of police.
Hundreds of troops were sent to quell communal unrest in the area.
“Police have arrested 50 people who attacked the temple and are hunting 100 other attackers who are on the run. Our teams are conducting raids to arrest them soon,” Ahmad Nawaz, spokesperson for the Rahim Yar Khan District police told The National
Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the attack in a statement shared on Twitter.
He said he had ordered the provincial police chief to take action against officers on duty, whose negligence led to the attack.
He promised his government would restore the temple.
The attack forced many members of the local Hindu community to flee the city.
“Police failed to protect the temple and the delayed response led to its destruction and panic among the Hindu community, who locked their houses and fled,” Ramesh Kumar, head of Pakistan’s Hindu Council and a lawmaker, told The National.
India’s external affairs ministry summoned a Pakistani diplomat to protest the attack on the temple and demand protection for Hindu families living in Muslim-majority Pakistan.
Kapil Dev, a human-rights activist, told The National that “fear and panic has gripped the area as many Hindus living there have fled to other areas for their safety and protection”.
He said it was good to see the prime minister and Supreme Court chief justice had taken notice of the situation immediately, but it would have been better if Mr Khan himself had paid a visit to the affected community.
“This gesture would have restored the lost trust and pulled them out from fear and insecurity,” Mr Dev said.
“Such incidents elsewhere in Canada or New Zealand, their prime ministers would have visited the affected community the very next day, but unfortunately no one from the top tier of the state has visited them,” he said.
Osama Malik, a legal expert said religious minorities were at risk in Pakistan.
“Despite the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, and freedom from religious discrimination, guaranteed by Article 20 of the Pakistani Constitution, and multiple conventions to which Pakistan is party to, the state has abysmally failed to protect minorities," he said.
"The weaponisation of blasphemy laws has reached a point where even 8-year-old children are not safe from it.”
In December last year, a large crowd of hardline Islamists demolished a century-old Hindu temple in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
According to a May report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedoms, Pakistan reported the highest number of incidents of mob activity, mob violence and threats of violence against people accused of blasphemy.
The report covered incidents documented through surveys between 2014 and 2018.