Church protests beating deaths of Christian couple accused of blasphemy

Relatives of a Christian couple killed after being accused of blasphemy cry at their home in Kasur, Pakistan, Nov. 5. Catholic leaders in Pakistan protested the Nov. 4 beating to death and burning of Shahzad Masih, 28, and his pregnant wife, Shama Bibi, 24, who were accused of desecrating the Quran. (CNS photo/Rahat Dar, EPA)
Relatives of a Christian couple killed after being accused of blasphemy cry at their home in Kasur, Pakistan, Nov. 5. Catholic leaders in Pakistan protested the Nov. 4 beating to death and burning of Shahzad Masih, 28, and his pregnant wife, Shama Bibi, 24, who were accused of desecrating the Quran. (CNS photo/Rahat Dar, EPA)

THRISSUR, India (CNS) — Catholic leaders in Pakistan protested the Nov. 4 beatings and burning of a young Christian couple accused of desecrating the Quran.

“The government has absolutely failed to protect its citizens’ right to life,” said the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan in a statement Nov. 5.

Condemning the brutal killing of Shahzad Masih, 28, and his pregnant wife, Shama Bibi, 24, the NCJP pointed out that the killing of the couple at the hands of a mob was based on a “false accusation of blasphemy.”

Police said they attempted to save the couple but that they were unable to do so because they were outnumbered.

The couple had three children, according to family members.

The victims’ bodies were burned at the brick kiln where they worked in Kot Radha Kishan, a town in Punjab province.

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan. Critics have charged that blasphemy laws often are misused to settle differences and that minorities are unfairly targeted.

Six brothers of the Masih family, including the youngest, Shahzad, worked at the brick kiln, a family member told Catholic News Service.

The couple “was brutally tortured and burnt alive,” Shabhaz Masih, Shahzad’s older brother, said.

He said Shama was burning waste after cleaning the home of her father-in-law, Nazar, who died Oct. 30. The manager of the brick kiln claimed to have seen pages with Quranic verses in the rubbish and alerted local Muslim leaders.

Word of the discovery spread on loudspeakers in neighboring villages, Shabhaz said, explaining that his brother and his wife tried to flee, but the owner of the kiln confined them in a room at the business. Early the next morning, hundreds of Muslims descended on the village in tractor trolleys and motor bikes, he said.

“The mob broke the roof, pulled the couple out and tortured them. They were paraded naked and set on fire,” Sardar Musthaq Gill, a Christian lawyer, told CNS.

Although several police officers were present, they “could not control the mob,” he said.

The NCJP said it was concerned that non-Muslim Pakistanis received inadequate protection from the government.

“The perpetrators involved in such incidents have never been brought to justice due to lack of political will. It makes minorities further vulnerable and a soft target,” Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, NCJP director, said in the statement.

— By Anto Akkara, Catholic News Service. 

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