This morning, November 4, 2014, a Christian couple and their unborn child were burnt alive over a blasphemy accusation. They leave behind three children. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have long been in contention, but it seems that many are engaging in vigilante justice as well.
Victims: Shahzad and Shama
Children: 4 (2 boys and 2 girls) and one was on the way
Charge: no official charge, just an accusation by a “witness” that Shama burnt pages of the Quran.
Where: Chak 59 village, near Kot Radha Kishan, south Lahore
When: kidnapping – Nov 2, 2014 murder – Nov 4, 2014
Shahzad’s father had died. His wife was helping him go through his father’s belongings. It was November 2, and nothing out of the ordinary. Shama took the amulets and papers that her father-in-law had used for black magic out to the trash to be burnt. This is when things went awry.
A Muslim man says he witnessed the scene and that Shama burnt pages of the Quran. He went around the town, spreading the word to several surrounding villages. The mosque loudspeakers were turned on and used to call Muslims to gather to teach the couple a lesson. He gathered 2,000 – 3,000 people, armed with batons, at the clay kiln where the couple lived and worked.
A manager at the kiln locked the couple in a room to save them. Shahzad’s extended family (5 brothers) all fled for fear of their lives. The crowd rushed into the kiln and demanded the manager give up the couple. It is uncertain if he did. However, the couple was found.
Shama, pregnant, was beaten to death before being thrown into the kiln. Her husband, however, was thrown in alive. While he was burning to death and crying of their innocence, the mob was shouting “Allah hu Akbar,” “death the blasphemer,” and “kill infidel Christians.” At this, the Christians in the surrounding five communities fled from their homes.
The police, alerted by other Christians, did not attempt to save the couple. However, they managed to arrest 35 people. At this point, there have been no official reports documenting the incident or charging those arrested.
Reaction from Christian & Human Rights Advocates
Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, President of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC, in a statement has said that blasphemy laws are a license to kill Christians in Pakistan by hands of Muslims. He has called for the immediate arrest of the culprits to ensure justice and urged Christians to raise their voices against blasphemy laws in Parliament. He believes that eradicating the blasphemy laws will keep Christians from being targeted.
Lawyer Gill, a well-known human rights defender who was called to the scene by other Christians, told Agenzia Fides: “It is a tragedy, a barbaric and inhumane act. The whole world must strongly condemn this incident which shows how insecurity in Pakistan has increased among Christians. An accusation is enough to be a victim of extrajudicial executions. We will see if anyone will be punished for this murder”.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have long been contended by human rights advocates. The law, section 295-C of the penal code, reads as such:
use of derogatory remarks etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet: – whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation innuendo, or insinuation, directly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable for fine.
In 1991, the court struck down “imprisonment for life,” leaving death as the only option.
This law also leaves out the idea of intention. So if you have two people, one who purposefully stomps on a Quran and tears it to shreds, and another who unknowingly set the Quran on the floor to clean the table, both will be sentenced to death.
The blasphemy laws are used mainly against Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus. Occasionally, if a Muslim runs afoul of someone, or is of a different sect of Islam, they will also be used on him.
According to advocates, Christians are the main targets of the fundamentalist and religious political parties. The law is being used for forced conversion, forcibly taking over the lands and business of Christians, hindering the preaching of Christian faith, and for settling personal scores, rivalries, and vengeance. The most world-renown case is of Asia Bibi.
With the government willfully going alongside Muslim extremists, religious minorities stand no chance in Pakistan.
Update on the Case
On Wednesday (Nov. 5), however, Morning Star News obtained a copy of the FIR (No. 475/14) in which the complainant, Assistant Sub-Inspector Muhammad Ali of Chowki Factory Area, Kot Radha Kishan, named 53 suspects, including Gujjar, the owner of the brick kiln – he has been arrested. Also named as suspects were other kiln employees, including Munshi Shakeel, Munshi Afzal, Muhammad Akram, Mehdi Khan, Ramzan, and watchman Muhammad Akram, along with hundreds of “unidentified people.”
The FIR was filed by the police, something unusual since the family was determined to file one themselves.
Sources in the Punjab Inspector General of Police office told Morning Star News that the government did not want the family to become the complainant in the case as it would keep media focused on developments and cause “global embarrassment” to the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose three terms in office have been tainted with extreme violence against non-Muslims, particularly Christians.
Instances such as this are becoming more and more common as citizens take matters into their own hands to settle personal (most times religious) issues. The government does little, if anything, to find and punish the perpetrators.
Activists are blaming the government, as well as the perpetrators, for the deaths of these three. All are calling for the repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
About the Author
Laura left government service as an intelligence analyst on crime, drugs, and terrorism, to pursue writing. She started analyzing Christian persecution around the world and became a de facto expert on the subject. Laura strives to relate hard-to-get, complex information to her readers. Creating her databases of information and working hard to create world wide networking partners, she can provide timely and detailed analysis of the issue. She also provides a one-stop-shop for prisoner information, persecuted stories, statistical analysis, and more. To connect with her via social media and/or to see more of her work, go to her website.