03/28/2018, 14.44
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Lahore court acquits 20 people accused of burning a Christian couple alive

by Shafique Khokhar

The case went before an anti-terrorism court that issued its ruling on 24 March. In Pakistan there is no justice for persecuted religious minorities. The courts are "dominated by fanatics".

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Lahore anti-terrorism court acquitted 20 people accused of burning alive Shahzad Masih and his wife Shama, a Christian couple of humble origins.

Last Saturday, the court gave the accused the benefit of the doubt and ordered their release.

Speaking on the Spot Light television program, Peter Jacob, activist and executive director of the Centre for Social Justice, said: "There is no protection in Pakistan for persecuted families like Shama and Shahzad. The judicial system is weak and therefore persecuted families, especially members of religious minorities, do not get justice."

The serious episode of religious violence occurred four years ago in Kot Radha Kishan, Kasur district (about 60 km from Lahore). The married couple were stoned and thrown alive in the brick kiln where Shahzad worked as a labourer.

On 4 November 2014, they were accused of blasphemy, which triggered a homicidal fury that drove 400 people to attack and kill them. In fact, the blasphemy charge was just a vendetta over money the Christian man owed to his Muslim employer.

At the time, the woman was pregnant with her fifth child. In November 2016, a court sentenced five men to death, ten to varying prison terms and acquitted 93 others.

Jacob believes that "it would have been better if a regular court had been in charge of the case instead of the anti-terrorism court. In the latter there are several shortcomings, innocent victims do not get justice and offenders often escape punishments.”

"Burning an innocent couple is not terrorism like suicide attacks. It is a crime that should be dealt with by regular courts. We need adequate training of investigators if we want to ensure the correct application of the rule of law."

 "The most painful aspect is that those who incited violence were punished, but the owner of the brickyard was able to avoid going to trial.”

"The persecution of religious minorities, in particular of Christians, is not new in Pakistan,” said Rojar Noor Alam, operation manager of Caritas Pakistan. “Unfortunately, government prosecutors often fail in their work. This causes delays in justice, which in turn results in the release of the offenders without any punishment."

"In the history of this country those responsible for attacks against minorities have never been punished,” he bemoaned.

“Even the courts are dominated by fanatics who use their influence to get terrorists freed. Pakistan is becoming a very dangerous place for religious minorities."

"It is sad news that the court acquitted the defendants,” said Kakkazai Amir, a researcher and writer. “This will embolden others to commit the same heinous crime in the name of religion.”

"We should all condemn this act and ask legislators to tighten the laws and remove every legal loophole that could benefit offenders. Justice must be the same for everyone and the state must pay more attention to religious minorities, ensuring everyone dignity and the right to live."

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