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
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
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
"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
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