» 07/23/2013, 00.00
Punjab: Catholic couple accused of blasphemy
Shafqat and Shagufta Masih live in Gojra, a town in Punjab where eight Christians were burnt alive in 2009. Instead of investigating the affair, police forced the two to accept the charges. A local priest warns that "false allegations like this lead to years in prison for the innocent. Concrete steps must be taken once and for all to stop the misuse of the blasphemy law."
Gojra (AsiaNews) - The authorities in the town of Gojra (Punjab
province) charged a local Catholic couple of blasphemy after a local Muslim man
complained that the two sent him blasphemous text messages, insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Under
Pakistani law, the two could be sentenced to death if found guilty.
Rana Muhammad Ijaz filed a complaint against Shafqat Masih, a disabled
person who works as a caretaker at a local school, and his wife Shagufta, a
Police officers went to the couple's home and brought them to a police
station. Both of the accused deny any wrongdoing. Shafqat complained that police
put enormous pressure on them to accept the accusations against them.
Gojra is infamous for the atrocities committed in the name of the
blasphemy law. On
31 August 2009, an angry
mob attacked the town's Christian colony and set fire to Christian homes.
Eight Christians were burnt alive whilst 40 houses and a church were destroyed
in the fire.
For years, the Catholic and Protestant Churches in Pakistan have been
calling for the repeal of the sectarian law, which has increasingly been used
as tool of personal revenge.
According to data collected by the Episcopal Commission for Justice and
Peace of Pakistan, from 1986 to August 2009, at least 964 people have been
charged under the law: 479 Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis, 14 Hindus and
10 of unknown religion. At
least 33 extra-judicial killings were carried out by individuals or mobs.
"This is not the first time that things like this happen," a local
priest, Fr John
Samuel, told AsiaNews.
"We are close to the fourth anniversary of Gojra massacre," he said. "Minorities
in Pakistan have been victimised in many ways. False allegations like this one
lead to years in prison for the innocent. Concrete steps must be taken once and
for all to stop the misuse of the blasphemy law. We strongly condemn what
happened, and ask for an independent inquiry into the matter."
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