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    » 07/23/2013, 00.00


    Punjab: Catholic couple accused of blasphemy

    Jibran Kahn

    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 waitress.

    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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    See also

    22/05/2015 PAKISTAN
    Pakistan: 106 people on trial for the lynching of a Christian couple, accused of blasphemy
    An anti-terrorism court has indicted them for murder. Hundreds of people stoned to death and then burned alive Sajjad Masih and his wife Shama. The woman, pregnant with her fifth child, was accused of setting fire to pages of the Koran.

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

    28/03/2014 PAKISTAN
    Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy, Islamabad bishop calls for prayers for the persecuted
    Sawan Masih's conviction came at the end of a trial held in prison because of a high risk of Islamist attacks. The Christian man's lawyers announce that they will appeal the verdict. Religious leaders and civil society groups express their anger and outrage over the court decision. For Bishop Rufin Anthony, "false accusations are an abuse." Asia Bibi's appeal hearing is set for 14 April.

    10/11/2014 PAKISTAN - INDIA
    The government of Pakistan is responsible for Christian couple's burning
    According to Peter Jacob, a well-known activist for human rights, the current legal system promotes violence in the name of the blasphemy laws. For a Pakistani politician, local leaders gave a "religious connotation to a dispute about money" to what was a "social question". For Indian bishop, it was a "satanic act;" hence, "It is urgent for world and religious leaders to get together".

    02/05/2009 PAKISTAN
    Christian families flee Punjab in wake of presumed blasphemy case
    Accusations against a social activist for having marked the Koran with ink and chewing gum. Rival politics within the Christian community at root of case. Protests force accused family to flee village.

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