A Pakistani anti-terrorism court on Wednesday sentenced 22 people to a five-year jail term each for vandalising a Hindu temple in Rahim Yar Khan district last year, PTI reported.
On August 4, 2021, hundreds of people had descended on the temple in Bhong town, some 590 km from Lahore, after a local court granted bail to a nine-year-old Hindu boy who had allegedly urinated at a library of the seminary.
Footage from the incident had shown men smashing temple windows, doors and idols with sticks and stones.
As many as 84 suspects in custody faced trial from September. It concluded last week.
“On Wednesday, anti-terrorism court Judge Nasir Hussain announced the verdict,” a court official told PTI. “The judge handed down imprisonment of five-year each to 22 suspects while acquitting the remaining 62 persons, giving them a benefit of doubt.”
Amid tight security, the suspects were brought to court from New Central jail in Bahawalpur district, PTI reported.
The 22 accused persons have been convicted on the basis of witness depositions and videos from the crime scene.
Last year, a police official had said the attackers smashed idols inside the temple while shouting religious slogans. A part of the temple was also burnt down, he had added.
Hindus had apologised to the seminary administration and informed them that the boy was a minor. But, the mob had vandalised the temple after a social media post urged residents of Bhong to take revenge for the desecration.
The nine-year-old boy was booked under the blasphemy laws of Pakistan. He was later released on bail for being a minor.
The government has recovered over Rs 4 lakhs from the accused persons as compensation and restored the temple based on an order of the Supreme Court.
The then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Gulzar Ahmed, said that the temple vandalism brought shame to the country as the police had acted as silent spectators.
“Imagine what mental agony the desecration incident had brought to the members of the Hindu community,” Ahmed had observed, according to PTI.
On August 6, 2021, minority Member of the Provincial Assembly, Ravi Kumar, had moved a resolution at the Assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa condemning the attack on the Hindu temple.
The Pakistan Parliament had adopted the resolution unanimously, PTI reported. It had also passed a resolution for the establishment of the Commission for Minority Affairs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.