11/07/2014, 00.00
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Faisalabad, Christians and Muslims demand justice for the couple "blasphemous" burned alive

by Shafique Khokhar
Activists held a protest march demanding the perpetrators be brought to justice. The government must takes appropriate measures to prevent abuses related to blasphemy. Government, police and judiciary held responsible for failing to prevent the violence. Muslim scholar calls for a committee to review the blasphemy law.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - The government must bring those responsible to justice and take appropriate steps to prevent other abuses linked to the blasphemy laws, which are increasingly being exploited to settle personal disputes. In addition, those who incite hatred through mosque loudspeakers must be stopped and at the same time the spread of literature that incites confessional hatred needs to blocked.

These are the demands of activists and participants who took part in a protest march and sit-in yesterday in front of the Press Club in Faisalabad, Punjab, to condemn the barbaric killing of a Christian couple in Lahore. Shahzad Masih, 28, and his wife, Shama, 25, who was pregnant, the parents of four children, were stoned to death with bricks and burned alive because - according to the crowd - they desecrated pages from the Koran.

So far, the Pakistani police have arrested at least 43 people in connection with the murder of the Christian couple, massacred by hundreds of people who then burned their bodies. The Pakistani prime minister has called the murder a "unacceptable crime," but there has yet to take concrete steps to prevent further massacres of Christians, perpetrated using the blasphemy laws as an excuse.

The protest was organized by activists various associations, including the Association of Women for Awareness and Motivation (Awam), REAT Human Rights network, the Peace and Human Development (PHD Foundation), the National Minorities Alliance of Pakistan (Nmap) and Awaz-e-Haq Ittehad (AHI). The demonstrators chanted slogans and brandished placards protesting the ongoing religious persecution in the Asian country, demanding an end to the injustices and abuses related to the blasphemy laws.

Speaking to AsiaNews Fr. Khalid Rasheed, a priest in Faisalabad, accused the Pakistani government of failing to instill a "culture of peace and justice" and of failing to protect minorities, the target of attacks and abuses often perpetrated "by exploiting the blasphemy laws." Naseem Anthony Awam criticizes the police, while Robin Daniel of Nmap says that the concept of democracy becomes very unstable "if you do not ensure protection to citizens." Suneel Malik of Phd Foundation speaks of the murder as an "insult to humanity" and the former Christian MP George Clement of an executive and the judiciary "under the control of religious leaders" who operate with impunity.

Criticism and condemnation for the brutal violence against the Christian couple also come from leading members of the moderate Muslim community; among them union leader Mian Abdul Qayyum who says it is "not a case of blasphemy," but a social a matter  " that has been turned into a religious issue". The political leader Rana Raheel of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) condemns the divisions between majority and minority groups - exacerbated by the executive - caused by the curriculum; Islamic scholar Najeeb Ali Shah reiterates his  call for the creation of a "committee" to assess the blasphemy laws to "prevent abuse".

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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