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Yet another travesty of justice and devastating blow for Christians in Pakistan. Morning Star News reports that an anti-terrorism court in Lahore, Pakistan on Saturday (March 24) acquitted 20 Muslims suspected of involvement in the killing and burning in a brick kiln of a Christian couple in 2014, sources said.
A frenzied Muslim mob of hundreds, incited by announcements made over a mosque loudspeaker, tortured and killed Shahzad Masih, 26, and 24-year-old Shama Masih in November 2014 after they were accused of blasphemy in Punjab’s Kot Radha Kishan area. In 2016 five Muslims were sentenced to death for the killing and eight others were sentenced to two years in prison for their involvement, but Christians believe Saturday’s verdict dashes hopes of complete justice for the family of the slain brick-kiln workers.
The mob tore the clothes off the couple, struck them, broke their legs, dragged them behind a tractor and threw them into the burning furnace of a brick kiln – even though Shama Masih, a pregnant mother of four, was illiterate and could not have known even if koranic verses were among debris that she had burned. Under Pakistan’s widely condemned blasphemy statutes, intent must be shown for a conviction of desecrating the Koran. Read VOP’s report of the brick kiln mob attack and call for justice.
Attorney Aneeqa Maria, who is representing Shama Masih’s family, said the court acquitted the 20 men on Saturday (March 24), giving them the benefit of the doubt. She said the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) had already granted bail to the lead suspect, Yousaf Gujjar, in April 2016, raising doubts about the Punjab government’s intention to deliver justice to the family.
“The government itself is complainant in the case, while the police officials present on the scene witnessed the entire incident and identified the accused,” she said. “Yet, we were appalled when Gujjar walked out on bail, and now more suspects have been let off by the court due to insufficient evidence.”
She added that of 140 suspects named, police had been able to arrest 81, while 59 were still absconding.
The police First Information Report (FIR) filed at the time said between 500 and 600 people were in the mob that burned the couple in Chak 59 village, Kot Radha Kishan, Kasur, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Lahore.
Gujjar’s name was on top of the list of 52 suspects that police believed were directly responsible for the incident. The investigation at that time found Gujjar and his son “guilty of egging on a prayer leader to declare Shama and Shahzad guilty of blasphemy from the loudspeaker of a mosque.”
Five relatives of Shahzad Masih, including his two brothers, however, told the ATC that Gujjar was not present at the crime scene. A police official who is the complainant in the case also retracted his statement in court regarding Gujjar’s presence at the time of the incident. Shama’s family insists that Gujjar had played a major role in the lynching, as he had forcibly stopped the couple from leaving the kiln since they owed him money.
Senior Supreme Court Advocate Saiful Malook told Morning Star News that the acquittals showed that police had intentionally built a weak case.
“This case could have been a watershed moment for the Pakistani government to regain confidence of its minorities and the international community regarding concerns over the violence perpetrated in the name of blasphemy, however the developments in the case are very disappointing,” he told Morning Star News.
Malook, who is pleading the appeal in the Supreme Court of Christian mother Aasiya Noreen (commonly known as Asia Bibi) against her death sentence under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, said that violence against minority communities, particularly Christians, cannot be contained unless the government fulfills its responsibility completely.
“The government made an unprecedented move by becoming complainant in the case,” he said. “It should have ensured that the case was watertight so that no accused would be able to escape justice, however grant of bail to the lead suspect and acquittals of several others shows the government lacked the commitment to follow the case in the first place.”
The gruesome incident prompted the Pakistani government itself to become the claimant against the double murder, the first such move by the government in a blasphemy case, but it slowly began to lose interest in the case, attorney Maria said.
In the November 2016 convictions, the ATC also directed the convicts – Muslim cleric Hafiz Ishtiaq, Mehdi Khan, Riaz Kumboh, Irfan Shakoor and Muhammad Hanif – to pay 100,000 rupees (about US$1,000) each as compensation to the heirs of the victims.
The eight convicted of aiding and abetting the crime are Muhammad Hussain, Noorul Hasan, Muhammad Arsalan, Muhammad Haris, Muhammad Muneer, Muhammad Ramazan, Irfan and Hafiz Shahid.
Christian on Death Row Acquitted
Separately, a Christian sentenced to death in a blasphemy case in Gujranwala two years ago was acquitted by the Lahore High Court on March 13.
Attorney Riaz Anjum told Morning Star News that a division bench of the high court comprising Justices Mazahar Ali Naqvi and Mushtaq Ahmad had ordered Anjum Naz Sindhu’s release as the prosecution had failed to produce evidence in support of its allegations that his client had blasphemed.
“The judges pointed out irregularities in the police investigation and also the fact that there was no proof to suggest that Sindhu had engaged in any religious discussion with the co-accused,” said the lawyer.
Anjum said that in its verdict, the court had also pointed out the absence of a voice recognition report to prove that the alleged blasphemous remarks were made by Sindhu.
“Although the police had obtained a transcribed form of the alleged blasphemous conversation from the forensic laboratory, they could not authenticate the voices on the recording,” he said, adding that the judges had termed it “a case of no evidence.”
Sindhu, a 65-year-old Catholic owner of a prominent chain of schools in Gujranwala, was sentenced to death on June 27, 2016, following conviction for blasphemy – as were the two men convicted of blackmailing him. Javed Naz, a Christian, and Naz’s Muslim friend Jaffar Ali, were also sentenced to death for concealing or otherwise handling a recording of remarks that allegedly blasphemed Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.
Naz and Ali had told police that Sindhu had committed blasphemy during a speech at Locus Science School last year, which Naz said he recorded on his cell phone, according to the FIR.
Sindhu’s brother, Asif Sindhu, had previously told Morning Star News that Naz, who worked at one of the schools that Anjum Sindhu owned, used the blasphemy law to take vengeance because Sindhu had fired Naz from the school for leaking examination papers.
“Later Naz, with the help of his friend Jaffar Ali, started blackmailing my brother and started demanding extortion by claiming that they had an audio recording in which he had committed blasphemy,” Asif Sindhu said. “They uttered blasphemous words in my brother’s voice to get revenge for taking action against Javed Naz and later started demanding extortion.”
As any unsubstantiated blasphemy accusation can land an accused person in jail for months while awaiting trial under Pakistan’s widely condemned blasphemy statutes, Anjum Sindhu on May 15, 2015 paid 20,000 rupees (US$190) in extortion money to the two men, who then demanded another 50,000 rupees (US$475) from him.
Attorney Arif Goraya, who represented Sindhu during the trial, had pointed out several irregularities in the police investigation during his arguments in court.
“During the proceedings, I repeatedly brought to the court’s notice that there is no direct evidence against my client, and that there are several gaps in the investigation that make the entire process suspicious,” he said.
Goraya had said that the forensic laboratory report notified the court that the lab lacked the equipment to make a 100 percent match of the voice on the audio clip with that of Sindhu. The court thus made its ruling largely on the basis of a transcript obtained from the audio recording, which does not directly incriminate Sindhu, the attorney said.
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(Voice of the Persecuted) Tuesday, 4 Nov. 2014, was very dark in Pakistan. Pakistani Christians reside in the face of constant danger, and today their hearts are breaking.
In the town of Kasur (Chak 59 village near Kot Radha Kishan) province of Punjab, Shahzad Masih(28) and his pregnant wife Shama(25) were brutally tortured, thrown into a brick kiln furnace and burned to death in an act of sheer barbarism by a vicious mob. The couple had three children, Shama was expecting their fourth child.
Their crime? Allegedly desecrating a copy of the Koran.
The couple worked in ‘bonded labor’ for Yousaf Gujjar at his brick kiln for the last 3-4 years and lived in quarters on the premises.
It’s reported that while cleaning their quarters, Shama came across some amulets from her deceased father-in-law who she said had practiced ‘black magic’. She burnt the amulets and threw them on a garbage heap. A Muslim co-worker noticed the burnt pieces of paper from the amulets and accused her of burning pages from the holy Quran.
The accusation spread quickly through Mosque loud speakers inciting the local Muslims rage. As tensions grew, their employer feared the couple would flee the area to save themselves from violence. There was a dispute over money owed to him from an apparent advance. Advancing cash to employees is illegal but a common practice in Pakistan. This detrimental practice forces them into bonded labor, which may take many years to pay back due to extremely high interest rates of these loans. They end up as virtual slaves of their employers in modern day slavery.
According to reports, he had the couple locked up in a room for a few days prior to the horrific attack. Unable to escape, they were drug from this room by the enraged mob that was led by a local cleric claiming they had desecrated the Koran.
Sharia law dictates this as blasphemy and carries a brutal death sentence. But this sentence was carried out without a trial, without mercy and without judges. The mob became judge, jury and executioner, while the couple screamed for mercy and denied all charges. It is said that they broke their legs so they could not run, brutally beat them, then threw them into the furnace fire. (More)
It appears that the police sided with the murderers. President Sharif has ordered a committee to investigate, but there are those who called for the UN to intervene.
Lahore (Agenzia Fides) – “We are shocked and worried. Christians in Pakistan are now wondering: what country do we live in? The horrible and barbaric execution of a Christian couple, accused of blasphemy, is an act that offends justice, human rights, human dignity, civilization, and is contrary to the rule of law. Today we will demonstrate for justice and human rights in Lahore. On the blasphemy law, we call for the UN to intervene”: this is what Fr. James Channan OP, a Dominican, Director of the “Peace Center” in Lahore, research center engaged in inter-religious dialogue said in an interview with Agenzia Fides, commenting on the murder of the Christian couple, burned alive in the district of Kasur in Punjab (see Fides 04/11/2014).
“I am convinced that the married couple did not commit blasphemy. And even if the accusation were verified, there are procedures to be followed. We cannot allow lynching or a mass execution to be carried out by those who believe they are above the law. This is a strong request to the government”, notes Fr. Channan. In fact, “for incidents of violence which occurred in the past (in Gojra, in Shantinagar and other places) none of the guilty were punished. Impunity fuels violence. We ask the Special Commission created by the Government of Punjab to submit a report immediately and to punish those involved in this barbaric act”, adds the priest.
Yesterday, to express their outrage and to demand justice and respect for the law, many Christian organizations and civil society groups that defend human rights, along with Muslim citizens, will gather in the street in Lahore. The Dominican concludes: “We will ask the UN to intervene. Careful and neutral analysis is needed with regards to the blasphemy law, its exploitation and its consequences. We call for a special UN commission to come to Pakistan. If this law is not stopped and corrected, there will be more accidents and tragedies like this”.
Recently, the area has seen numerous incidents of violence that have taken place between Christians and Muslims.
Those who have fled this horrendous law and torture are crying, heartbroken and shocked. A persecuted Pakistani Christian who was forced to take refuge in another country told Voice of the Persecuted, “I am crying, I want to go back and help, but I will be a target and killed.”
These precious brethren have been targeted for blasphemy, often under false charges. How can Pakistan’s Blasphemy law be considered anything but barbaric and medieval, in our modern day? How can this be allowed in a world that prides itself on freedom for all? Why does Pakistan continue to receive billions of dollars in aide from freedom loving, Western nations? Why are they not held accountable for the human rights abuses and atrocities? Where is the U.N? The heart of the world has gone cold and silent.
Three children have needlessly become orphans. Not only have they lost their parents, but their sibling. How do we explain this senseless act to them? How can we prevent the same violence from happening to them, or others in the future?
PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS NEED YOUR PRAYERS! And pressure must be put on Pakistan to protect all of it’s citizens, regardless of stature, ethnicity, or religion.
Voice of the Persecuted strongly condemns this shocking and tragic event.
We call on the Pakistani Government to bring each and every individual responsible for this deplorable act of violence to immediate justice.
We implore Islamic clerics who too often are found inciting such mob violence to publicly denounce these reprehensible attacks. And that the Pakistan government hold them accountable as accomplices when instigating these criminal acts of the violence now and in the future.
We ask that the nation of Pakistan develop programs to educate against prejudices and intolerance of Christians and other religious minorities. And to continue in advancing a Pakistan where all citizens may live in peace without fear.
To establish mandatory education of ALL Pakistani children (boys and girls). Illiteracy forces a large number of minorities into bonded labor making them easy targets for a life of discrimination, unspeakable abuses and death. Free them from this illegal practice! Many great minds have come from Pakistan. Please give all children the opportunity to make successful contributions to your society, to further enhance your country in the future.
We ask that the blasphemy law to be immediately repealed, which is continually misused to settle personal scores in which minorities are unfairly targeted.
We ask the international community to hold the government of Pakistan accountable, pressuring them to take and enforce firm action to deter and completely eliminate these types of attacks in the future.
To all nations, we ask that future aid and other relations with Pakistan be curtailed in the light of Pakistan’s steadfast refusal to grant Christians and other religious minorities basic human rights. Pakistan ought not receive any but the most urgent humanitarian aid until these totalitarian laws are repealed. And until true and lasting efforts are made by the government for real change in Pakistan.
We also call for the UN to immediately act and intervene.
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Recommended: Read a Persecuted Christian’s message to the West for a true account of the reality of life for Christians in Pakistan HERE.
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