Pakistani authorities have sacked a local police chief and 11 other policemen for failing to protect a Hindu temple that was set on fire and demolished last month by a mob led by hundreds of supporters of a religious party, police said.
The 12 policemen were fired on Thursday over acts of “cowardice, irresponsibility and negligence” for not trying to stop the mob when it attacked the temple, with some having fled the scene.
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The regional government in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also suspended 33 other police officers for a year as punishment, provincial police chief Sanaullah Abbasi said.
The punishments come amid government assurances that the Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj Samadhi temple – situated in the remote village of Teri in Karak district, some 85km (53 miles) south of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – would be rebuilt.
Last week, Pakistan’s Supreme Court also ordered the rebuilding of the temple, with the next hearing in the case set for January 19.
On December 30, about 2,000 men ransacked the historic temple built in 1920 and an adjacent Hindu shrine, destroying the compound and setting fire to it.
The mob led by a local Muslim leader was enraged by the renovation of a building adjacent to the temple that was recently bought by the Hindu community to facilitate visiting devotees.
The attack took place after members of the Hindu community received permission from local authorities to renovate the temple.
Pakistan is home to an estimated 3.5 million Hindus, who form a 1.6 percent minority of the country’s 207 million population, as per government figures.
More than 30 rioters, including the Muslim leader who allegedly incited the mob, have already been arrested after they were identified in videos of the attack uploaded online.
The arrested included supporters of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party, who are currently facing trials on various charges.
Although Muslims and Hindus generally live peacefully together in Pakistan, violence against the minority community often centres around the country’s strict, and heavily emotive, blasphemy laws.
Attacks on Hindu temples, while not common, have been increasing in frequency in recent years.
Most of Pakistan’s minority Hindus migrated to India in 1947 when the Indian subcontinent gained independence from the British rule, resulting in the formation of Muslim-majority Pakistan.
Last year, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) renewed its designation of Pakistan as a “country of particular concern”, citing, among other reasons, “severely restricted freedom of religion or belief”.