11/24/2016, 15.39
PAKISTAN
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Court in Lahore hands death sentence to murderers of Christian couple burnt to death for blasphemy

by Shafique Khokhar

In 2014, Shahzad and Shama Masih were lynched and thrown into a kiln. Their three children are now looked after by a Catholic association. The five convicted Muslim men must also pay a fine. "The verdict goes in the right direction to ensure the rule of law."

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Lahore’s Anti-Terrorism Court convicted five men in connection with the murder of a Christian couple, burnt to death on alleged blasphemy charges. All five were sentenced to death.

According to the British Pakistani Christians Association (BPCA), the five Muslim men responsible for the brutal murder, including a cleric, will also have to pay a fine of 200,000 rupees each (about US$ 1,900). Eight other people arrested in the case will serve two years in prison.

“Though it is difficult to endorse the death penalty, the gruesome event deserves it,” Hamza Arshad, a Muslim, told AsiaNews. “One hopes to see the implementation of punishment as deterrence to such savagery in the future.”

The case dates back to November 2014, when Shahzad Masih, 28, and his pregnant wife Shama, 25, parents of three children, were attacked and executed by an angry mob of at least 400 people, egged on by a local religious leader.

Four years earlier, the couple had moved to the village of Chak 59, Kasur district (about 60 km from Lahore), to work in a brick kiln.

One of Shama’s co-workers said he had seen the Christian man burn pages of the Qur‘an and accused him of insulting Islam. In fact, the pages contained magic spells and incantations. Seized and beaten, the man and his wife were thrown into the kiln.

“Pakistan shows a raging intolerance against minorities,” Arshad added. “In most of the cases, blasphemy laws are misused for personal motives or to incite crowds to take the law in their own hand.

“We salute the honourable judges of the Anti-Terrorism Court for doing justice despite the threats from holy warriors”.

“Two innocent lives were brutally taken and three children were orphaned due to the extreme levels of bigotry in our society,” said Michelle Chaudhry, president of Cecil and Iris Foundation (CICF), which obtained custody of the couple’s three children and is taking care of their education.

“Those responsible for this horrific act of violence had to undeniably be brought to justice,” she explained. “We are pleased that justice has been served to Shama and Shahzad and that the rule of law has been upheld.” 

“As a human rights activist, I do not support death sentence,” said Ata-ur-Rehman Saman, a teacher and project coordinator at the National Commission for Justice and Peace; “however, the verdict does pave the way for the rule of law. No one has been held responsible and punished for the incidents in Shantinagar in 1997, in Sangla Hill in 2005 and in Gojra in 2009,”.

“This situation of lawlessness had provided impunity for the culprits who found religious minorities a soft target to extract personal gains using blasphemy accusations,” he added. “This verdict should build confidence in the judicial system and a sense of security among religious minorities.”

According to Ishtiaq Ahmed, professor of Politics and Government at Lahore University and professor emeritus at Stockholm University, "This is a verdict that goes in the right direction. However, unless it is backed by comprehensive and determined measures to demolish the ideology of extremism such incidents can again take place.”

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