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Pakistani couple killed after ‘false’ blasphemy accusation

14 November 2014


Angry: protesters in Lahore after the murder of a Christian couple

Angry: protesters in Lahore after the murder of a Christian couple

A CHURCH official in Pakistan has said that an unpaid debt led to the murder of a young Christian couple last week.

The lender is alleged to have spread a rumour that the couple, Shehzad Masih and his wife, Shamma, who was four months pregnant, had burnt a copy of the Qur'an. They were dragged from their home by a large crowd, incited by a cleric from a mosque near by. They were beaten to death, and their bodies were burnt in a brick kiln.

The murder took place on Tuesday of last week in Kot Radha Kishan, a small town about 40 miles from Lahore.

Muhammad bin Yameen, a police official, told Al Jazeera of allegations that the couple had desecrated the Qur'an, "and then when people found this out, they got together to form a mob. There were a lot of people gathered there, from many of the surrounding villages as well."

But the development officer of the diocese of Raiwaind, Raheel Sharoon, said: "The real story is that the owner of the brick kiln, Yousaf Gujjar, lent some money to the couple, and when he asked for the money to be returned, there was a confrontation, since the majority of brick-kiln workers cannot return their loans in cash, but do it by working at the brick kiln. After which he started spreading rumours of desecration of the Qur'an."

An investigator with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Nadeem Anthony, told Al Jazeera: "Let me be clear that there was no burning of the Qur'an there. I can say this categorically."

On Wednesday of last week, 44 people were arrested in connection with the killings. The chief minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, has set up a three-member committee to investigate the incident, and ordered police to increase security at Christian neighbourhoods in the province.

The Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, said: "A responsible state cannot tolerate mob rule and public lynching with impunity. The Pakistani state has to act proactively to protect its minorities from violence and injustice."

Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS, an organisation in the UK which works for Christians in Pakistan, said: "Mob justice is becoming prevalent, despite its being the job of the police and courts to prosecute, convict, and punish someone if found guilty."

The Assistant Curate of St Anselm's, Belmont, in London, the Revd Rana Youab Khan, who grew up in Pakistan and worked as a parish priest in Kot Radha Kishen, spoke about the causes of the persecution of minorities.

"Pakistan was built on tolerance, and on the protection of minority rights," he said. "A lack of good governance, proxy wars, policy 'blow-backs' caused by the support of the Afghan Taliban, and proxy groups in the 1980s and 1990s - and even until early 2001 - meant that those very groups have now made Pakistan a battleground, and spread their hatred against the very minorities who helped to form Pakistan out of the mud and destruction of Partition.

"Over the past ten years, the vast majority of people killed by extremists in Pakistan have been Muslims. Yet fear, violence, and threats have been used to stifle the voices of minorities like Christians, Shias, and Ahmadi communities."

CLAAS reports that the Masihs leave behind three children aged between 18 months and seven years.

MPs urge review of Bibi case. More than 50 British MPs wrote last month to the Pakistani authorities asking for an urgent review in the case of Asia Bibi, the Christian mother of five sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy (News, 17 October).

In a joint letter composed by the MP for Gillingham and Rainham, Rehman Chishti, the 54 MPs say they feel strongly that a miscarriage of justice has taken place in the case of Mrs Bibi, who has been sentenced to death. They call on the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice, Nasir-ul-Mulk, to consider the case as a matter of urgency.

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