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Dozens Arrested In Pakistan After Mob Demolishes Hindu Shrine

Police inspect the burned Hindu temple a day after a mob attack in a remote village in the Karak district, some 160 kilometers southeast of Peshawar, on December 31.
Police inspect the burned Hindu temple a day after a mob attack in a remote village in the Karak district, some 160 kilometers southeast of Peshawar, on December 31.

Pakistani officials say at least 31 people have been arrested after a mob of hundreds of people attacked and set ablaze a century-old Hindu shrine.

Local police said on December 31 that raids were under way to arrest individuals involved in the attack the previous day in the Karak district of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Rahmat Salam Khattak, a leader of the Islamist Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (JUI) party and former district administrator, is among those already detained.

The incident prompted condemnation from the Muslim-majority country's Hindu community and human rights activists, as well as provincial and federal government ministers.

“This is a barbaric way to deal with minorities. We are shocked and hurt ... and [the incident has] sent a wave of insecurity in the Hindu community," local community leader Haroon Sarbdyal said.

Numbering an estimated 8 million, Pakistan’s Hindu community has become the target of rising religious violence in recent years. The majority of the country’s Hindus are based in the southern province of Sindh, near the border with India.

Videos posted on social media appeared to show men using hammers to damage the walls of the shrine in Karak as dark smoke rose up from the site.

District police chief Irfanullah Khan said local Muslim clerics incited a mob more than 1,000 people to destroy the Hindu shrine after an adjacent house was recently purchased by the Hindu community and had started to undergo renovation.

Locals who spoke to RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal characterized the conflict as a land dispute over alleged plans to expand the shrine.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to the site, provincial police chief Sanaullah Abbasi said cases have been registered against “more than 300 people.”

Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri tweeted that the attack was “a conspiracy against sectarian harmony."

The "protection of religious freedom of minorities is our religious, constitutional, moral, and national responsibility,” he added.

Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari also condemned the incident on Twitter, and urged the provincial government to ensure that the culprits be brought to justice.

Provincial Information Minister Kamran Bangash said that “those who were involved will not be spared."

Describing the shrine as “one of the four largest holy sites of the Hindu community in Pakistan,” Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a ruling party lawmaker and head of the Pakistan Hindu Council, said a protest rally was planned in front of the Supreme Court.

The country “is already facing pressure in terms of religious freedom and minorities' rights, therefore such acts of extremism must be curbed at any cost,” Vankwani said.

Rimmel Mohydin, a Pakistan campaigner at Amnesty International, called the destruction of the shrine “yet another example of persistent discrimination faced by the beleaguered Hindu community in Pakistan.”

The shrine was reportedly first built in the early 1900s, but the local Hindu community left in 1947 when Pakistan gained independence from British rule.

By 1997 the shrine had been taken over by local Muslims, and Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 2015 ordered the site be handed back to the Hindu community and restored.

The attack comes after construction of the first Hindu temple in Islamabad was temporarily halted in July after some religious leaders raised objections and a mob vandalized the site.

Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department placed Pakistan on a list of "countries of particular concern" for religious freedom violations -- a designation Islamabad has rejected.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and AFP