11/05/2014, 00.00
PAKISTAN - ISLAM
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Bishop of Islamabad: Couple burned alive, barbaric act shrouded by a guilty silence

by Jibran Khan - Shafique Khokhar
Shahzad Masih, 28, and his wife, Shama, 25, had four children and the woman was pregnant. Accusation made by Shahzad’s employer; at least 400 people attacked, shot and burned the bodies of the young couple. Christian activists: yet another abuse of the blasphemy laws.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - "A tragic event. Attacking and burning alive two innocent people on the basis of mere allegations is a mockery of the judicial system". So the bishop of Islamabad / Rawalpindi Msgr. Rufin Anthony comments to AsiaNews about the brutal murder of a young Christian couple, parents of four children, stoned and then burned alive.

The two were dragged away and executed by an angry mob of at least 350-400 people, incited by a local religious leader over an alleged episode of blasphemy. The event took place yesterday in a brickyard in the Kasur district, about 60 km from Lahore, the Pakistani province of Punjab; so far the police have detained at least 45 people for questioning, but no official charges have been laid.

"We have witnessed in the past that mobs have been pressuring and taking the law in their own hand - adds the prelate -, such incidents were not condemned by the religious leaders which has encouraged this mob to take the law in their hands. If some concrete action would have been taken in the past such barbaric incident could have been averted".

The victims are Shahzad Masih, 28, and his wife, Shama, 25, who was pregnant. The couple were the parents of four children and had moved four years ago to the village of Chak 59, because the man had found work in the brick factory of a Muslim Gujjar Yousaf. The killing spree was sparked by a story related to the infamous "black law": On Sunday, November 2 the woman was accussed of having burned the material that had belonged to her late father, including pieces of paper. One of the workers accused Shama of having burned pages of the Koran, accusing her of blasphemy, although in reality it was just some papers and amulets.

Added to this is a small debt which the young Christian had contracted in the past with his employer.  He was unable to repay the debt because illness had prevented him from working full time. This is why on November 1 his Muslim boss, along with a small group of friends, broke into the Masih house of and beat him brutally.

The next day the husband and wife were kidnapped and locked up in a room near the brickyard. On the morning of November 4, Yousaf Gujjar announced in the local mosque that the Christian couple had committed the crime of blasphemy, triggering the reaction of the crowd that first stoned them with bricks, and then burned the bodies.

The couple's four children are currently at an unknown location and we have no information about their fate. The authors of the brutal violence have fled.

Christian religious leaders, human rights activists and members of Pakistani civil society have expressed horror and dismay at what happened yesterday in Lahore.

Peter Jacob, former executive secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church of Pakistan, speaks of "brutality that casts a shadow over the nation" and expresses "condolences to all the families of the victims", expressing the hope that the government "ensure once and for all security minorities". Fr Bonnie Mendes, a priest and prominent activist, warned: "As long as the murderers go unpunished, these actions will continue to happen," and warned the executive to make a greater effort. "It's not a question of ensuring security - he adds - but to indict for murder those who were responsible for the killing of the Christian couple."

A personality active in the field of human rights, behind anonymity, after seeing the crime scene said that "now there is no need for proof of the insecurity of Christians in Pakistan." He also states that "we no longer need evidence to show that there is an abuse of the blasphemy laws. The mob also killed the innocent child in Shama's womb - he concludes - she was pregnant. I can not say I see a bright future for Christians in Pakistan".

With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia.

About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).

Scores of violent incidents have occurred in recent years, against entire communities (Gojra in 2009, and Joseph Colony, Lahore, in March 2013), places of worship (Peshawar, September last year) and individuals ( Sawan Masih, Asia Bibi, Rimsha Masih and Robert Fanish Masih, who died in prison), often perpetrated under the pretext of the country's blasphemy laws.

 

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