Christian couple tortured, bodies burned over ‘blasphemy’

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  • Violent mobs attacked Shahzad Masih and his five months pregnant wife Shama after a Muslim co-worker at the brick kiln accused them of defiling the Holy Quran
  • Murdered woman’s father says govt initiated FIR on its own, buried remains of the couple hastily at midnight ‘as if they were thieves’
  • PM orders Punjab CM to show no mercy to killers as police arrest 44 accused

 

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday directed Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to show no mercy to the murderers of a Christian couple accused of blasphemy in Kot Radha Kishan near Lahore, as police arrested at least 44 persons in connection with the incident which has shocked people in Pakistan and across the world.

Commanded from mosque loudspeakers, a violent Muslim mob killed the Christian couple on Tuesday after a Muslim co-worker at the brick kiln, where they both worked as bonded labourers, accused the pregnant wife of defiling the Holy Quran.

Family sources told Pakistan Today that the lives of Shama Bibi, 28, and her husband Shahzad Masih, 32, could have been saved if they had fled the kiln on Monday after the Quran desecration charges were made against them.

The couple lived and worked at a brick kiln owned by Chaudhry Yousuf Gujjar in Chak 59 village near Kot Radha Kishan, some 60 kilometres from Lahore. They had four children while Shama was five months pregnant.

On Sunday, Shama, whose original name is Saima, was cleaning her quarters when she found amulets of her late father-in-law, who had used them in the practice black magic.

“Shama burned the amulets and some other related material, assuming that this was the best way to get rid of ‘evil stuff,’” her father Mukhtar Masih told Pakistan Today.

“She later threw the ashes on a garbage heap outside their quarters when Muhammad Irfan, a Muslim co-worker, noticed some half-burnt pieces of paper from the amulets and raised a clamor, claiming that Shahzad’s family had desecrated Quranic pages.”

Mukhtar said that Shahzad and his five brothers worked for many years at Gujjar’s brick kiln.

As word spread about the alleged blasphemy, the brothers went to Gujjar and informed him about their fears.

“Gujjar assured them that he would protect them but on the other hand he asked his Munshi (accountant) not to let the family flee the village without paying back their bond money,” said Mukhtar.

By Monday night, some villagers had informed the police of the alleged desecration and warned of a possible attack on the Christian couple as announcements were being made on mosque loudspeakers calling on “all faithful” to avenge the alleged blasphemy. At about 6:30am on Tuesday, angry protesters had started gathering near the kiln.

There are conflicting accounts of the incident that took place afterwards.

According to one report which quotes Shahzad Masih’s sister-in-law Parveen, the angry mob forced their way into the couple’s quarters while all the other Christian employees, except Shama’s sister Yasmeen (married to Shahzad’s brother Fiaz Masih) fled the scene sensing danger.

According to Yasmeen, some men entered the quarters and one of them dragged Shama out.

“Shama had their youngest daughter Poonam in her arms. The man snatched Poonam and threw her on the floor…In the meantime, brick kiln guard Muhammad Akram rescued Shama and took her to the kiln office (only a few yards away from their quarters) and locked her in there,” the report quotes Parveen.

“Shama was crying and screaming for help. Akram then went for her husband and asked him to join Shama in the room to console her, as he assured them that soon they would be taken out – after the protesters dispersed,” Parveen is quoted as saying.

On the other hand, Mukhtar Masih told Pakistan Today that the couple had been led to the room together by Akram, who he identified as a Munshi (accountant). He could not confirm Parveen’s statement that Shahzad was brought to the room after Shama.

Meanwhile, thousands of people armed with clubs, hatchets and axes from five surrounding villages – Chak 60, Rosey, Pailan, Nawan Pindi and Hatnian – of Chak 59 also arrived at the brick kiln on tractor-trolleys and other vehicles.

“Akram had locked the main kiln office door from the outside, but the angry protesters broke in anyway. But they failed to break the iron door of the office, which Shama and Shahzad had locked from inside. The angry protesters then climbed on to the roof and broke it in,” Mukhtar said, quoting his daughter Yasmeen, who had witnessed the entire incident.

According to Yasmeen, the mob then opened the door from inside and brought the couple into the open, where the highly-charged protesters were baying for their blood.

“They beat them with wooden clubs on their heads, and hatchets, before they were both tied to a tractor and pulled out onto an under-construction road covered with crushed stones,” Mukhtar said, adding that according to Yasmeen, Shama had succumbed to the torture while Shahzad was unconscious, but still breathing.

“The mob then took some petrol from the tractor and doused their bodies and threw them in the kiln,” he said, adding that Yasmeen had told the family that five policemen, who were deployed by the local police for maintaining law and order, shied away from taking charge of the situation.

Heavy contingents of police arrived at the scene after the mob had killed the couple.

The police themselves filed the case and lodged the First Information Report [No. 475/14], registered in Kot Radha Kishan Police Station by ASI Muhammad Ali of Chowki Factory Area Kot Radha Kishan. The FIR was registered under sections 302/436, 201/148, 149/353, 186 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).

It states that 500 to 600 men tortured the Christian couple and names 53 men, including Yousuf Gujjar, Munshi Shakeel, Munshi Afzal, Muhammad Akram, Mehdi Khan and Ramzan, besides hundreds of “unidentified men”.

“The incident took place after the above-nominated persons gathered a crowd of people and roused their passion though false announcements from the mosque (loudspeakers) of desecration of the Quran,” states the FIR.

MOSQUE IMAM INCITED CROWD:

According to Kasur District Police Officer Jawad Qamar, the murders were incited by the Imam of a local mosque. He did not disclose the Imam’s name.

“We have arrested 44 people, including Yousuf Gujjar. It was a local issue incited by the mullah,” Qamar said, adding that no particular sectarian group or religious outfit was behind the attack.

FAMILY UNSURE ABOUT JUSTICE:

On the other hand, the poor family suffered another shock when the remains of the couple were hastily buried at midnight.

“Last night (Tuesday night) when I left the village, it had been decided that the funeral would be held the next day. But instead it was hastily done at midnight, as if our children were thieves. Also, my daughter Yasmeen is the eyewitness of the entire incident, but her name is not included in the police’s filed FIR, so how can we know the state is committed to providing us justice?”

Strongly fearing that the government would try to hush up the matter, Mukhtar Masih on Wednesday filed a petition in the Lahore High Court against the State’s decision to become the complainant.

The Pakistani Christian community has already seen the government’s lack of seriousness in providing justice to them in the arson case of Joseph Colony in Lahore in which more than 150 homes were torched by violent Muslim mobs over blasphemy charges on a illiterate Christian man.

All major acts of religious terrorism against Christians, including Joseph Colony arson in March 2013, Gojra carnage in 2009, and previous killings at Shanti Nagar in Khanewal and Bamnianwala, have taken place under Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz governments, which is often accused of having a soft corner for banned Islamist extremist outfits based in Punjab.

SHOW NO MERCY:

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sharif on Wednesday said the murderers of the Christian couple accused of blasphemy will be brought to justice.

“The brutal murder of the Christian couple in Kot Radha Krishan is an unacceptable crime,” the premier stated.

“A responsible state cannot tolerate mob rule and public lynching with impunity,” he added.

Nawaz Sharif directed Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to show no mercy and allow the law to take its course to punish those responsible.

“The Pakistani state has to act proactively to protect its minorities from violence and injustice. We must promote religious and ethnic diversity in our society as a virtue,” the PM further said.

Shahbaz Sharif has already formed a three-member committee to expedite the investigation of the killings and ordered police to beef up security in Christian neighbourhoods in the province.

Asher John

Writer is the Chief News Editor of Pakistan Today.



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