By Jibran Ahmed
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A mob in northwestern Pakistan attacked and set ablaze a century-old Hindu temple on Wednesday, officials said, prompting condemnations from the Muslim-majority country's Hindu community.
Hindus are the largest non-Muslim majority in the country, which gained independence from British rule in 1947, when the subcontinent was partitioned into Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India.
Videos made by locals at the scene and shared with Reuters showed a crowd breaking apart blocks of the temple structure’s walls using stones and sledgehammers, as dark smoke from a large fire billowed into the sky.
Local Muslim clerics had organised what they told police would be a peaceful protest against the alleged expansion of the temple, located in a town in Karak district, in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Rahmatullah Wazir, a police officer in the town, told Reuters.
He added that clerics leading the protest started "provocative speeches", following which the crowd attacked the temple.
“It was a mob and then nobody was there to stop them from damaging the temple,” Wazir said, adding that most of the structure had been damaged.
District police chief Irfanullah Khan told Reuters nine people had been arrested on suspicion of taking part in the attack.
The temple was first built in the early 1900s as a shrine, but the local Hindu community left in 1947 and by 1997 the site had been taken over by local Muslims.
In 2015, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered it be handed back to the Hindu community and the shrine rebuilt, on condition that it would not be expanded in the future.
The spokesman of the provincial government did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment.
“This is a barbaric way to deal with minorities. We are shocked and hurt ... and (the incident has) sent a wave of insecurity in Hindu community,” Haroon Sarbdyal, a local leader of the Hindu community, said in an interview.
Sarbdyal said while local Hindus had relocated from the village, devotees still travelled there every Thursday to visit the shrine.
Pakistan’s Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari condemned the incident on Twitter.
Earlier this year, rights watchdog Amnesty International called on Pakistani authorities to "protect the right to freedom of religion and belief for the country’s beleaguered Hindu community, including the construction of temples to exercise that right".
(Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar; Additional reporting and writing by Umar Farooq in Islamabad; Editing by Gibran Peshimam and Jonathan Oatis)