Lahore: A graveyard of the minority Ahmadi sect in Pakistan`s Punjab province has allegedly been vandalised by policemen, who used black paint to cover up verses from the Quran inscribed on 64 graves.
The incident occurred in Hafizabad district, 90 km from Lahore. Policemen painted the tombstones yesterday at the "request" of anti-Ahmadis clerics, who called for the Quranic verses to be removed from the graves.
The police action has sent shock waves through the 2,500-strong Ahmadi community living in Hafizabad and made them feel vulnerable, Ahmadi leaders said.
Nasir Javed, the acting chief of the Jamaat-e-Ahmadiya in Hafizabad, told a news agency that police had called him a few days ago and asked him to remove Quranic verses from the tombstones in the Ahmadi graveyard as it was "hurting the sentiments of Muslims".
"We asked them how such verses could be removed as they were not provocative by any means. The police chief of the district said they would do it on their own as the issue could lead to tensions between the two communities," Javed said.
"Yesterday we found 64 graves vandalised with black paint, which is outrageous," he said.
He condemned the police action and asked: "If the state is doing this to us, to whom should we turn to for justice?"
Hafizabad district police chief Waqas Yasin told a news agency that police had acted after receiving a complaint from local clerics.
"As the Ahmadis are not Muslims, they cannot have Quranic verses inscribed on their tombstones," he said.
Police had first asked the Ahmadi community to erase the verses themselves but they did not comply, he said.
After that, the police had to act, he added.
Earlier, there was a joint graveyard for Ahmadis and Muslims in the district.
Following a protest by an extremist group six years ago, the Ahmadis had to separate their graveyard. Pakistan`s Ahmadis consider themselves Muslim but were declared non-Muslims through a constitutional amendment in 1974.
A decade later, they were barred from proselytising or identifying themselves as Muslims in Pakistan.
Some 1.5 million Ahmadis live across the country.
Police in Punjab province have taken action against several Ahmadi mosques this year. They demolished the minarets of an Ahmadi mosque at Kharian city, 200 km from Lahore, last month.
In March, couplets from the Quran written on tiles at an Ahmadi mosque at Sultanpura in Lahore were removed by police.