PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Police arrested four men Saturday for allegedly destroying an ancient statue of Buddha they found while doing construction work near an historic Buddhist site in northwest Pakistan, officials said.
The arrests in the district of Mardan were made hours after a video went viral on social media showing a man breaking the statue with a hammer when it was still partially embedded in the ground.
Local archaeologists later determined the Buddha statue was of historic value.
The men, charged under the country's antiquities laws, face up to five years in jail if convicted. The laws prohibit the destruction of damage to any antiquities, police said.
“We have taken the pieces of the destroyed Buddha into our custody to assess its archaeological value but apparently it was an ancient one. We lost it unfortunately," said Abdul Samad Khan, who heads the province's archaeology department.
Police said they are questioning the men, who are local residents, to determine exactly why they destroyed the Buddha, instead of alerting authorities.
The incident took place not far from Takhat Bhai, a mountainous area that was once part of Gandhara, an important Buddhist kingdom that stretched across modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan more than 1,000 years ago.
Pakistan possesses a rich cultural heritage but doesn't have the resources to adequately protect it.