Authorities in Pakistan's Punjab province have moved in to save a Christian couple and a woman from an angry mob who tried to attack them accusing them of blaspheming.
Police arrested a cleric for rallying people to inflict harm on an illiterate Christian couple June 30 in the Makki village, Sheikhupura district, some 30 kilometers from Lahore, the provincial capital, Pakistan Today reported.
The incident is seen as a rare instance of police managing to successfully intervene in mob violence that can be triggered by unproven allegations of blasphemy.
Mere accusations at the hands of vigilantes can lead to deaths of people blamed for committing blasphemy.
The victims retrieved an old banner advertisement of names and slogans of various colleges, which they used as a mat on the floor of their home, according to Sheikhupura district police officer Sohail Zafar Chattha.
Some of the educational institutions' slogans, however, had been taken from the Quran, leading people in the area where the victims lived to make the accusations of blasphemy, said the police officer.
One of the slogans, written in Arabic, contained the words Hadith (Oh my Lord, increase me in my knowledge), he added.
"Muslims of the town gathered there and dragged the poor couple who didn't know what they had done. They were being beaten to death," Chattha said.
The victims were identified in a report by ucanews.com as Owais Qamar, his wife Rukhsana, and his sister Rehana.
After the mob beat up the victims, two village guards shaved their heads and mounted them on donkeys, as they were brought around the area, the report said.
"The mob wanted to kill the Christians and file a blasphemy complaint against them, but the Sheikhupura Police Chief defused the situation and persuaded the mob to withdraw their demand," said Dr. Riaz, Alhpa, chair of the Human Rights Care Association.
"Police intervened in time and rescued the couple from the mob, who were later shifted to Lahore and were handed over to the elders of Christian community," added Chattha.
Chatta said police managed to arrest one of the clerics, but he did not identify. The other cleric and the victim's neighbor, who insinuated the alleged blasphemy against the couple, remained at large.
Tough blasphemy laws have been used against minorities and the poor to settle scores, rights groups in Pakistan have complained. A blasphemy conviction can carry the death sentence.