ASIA/PAKISTAN - Five death sentences for the murder of a Christian couple burned alive for blasphemy

Thursday, 24 November 2016 justice   blasphemy   religious minorities   islam   civil society   religious freedom  


Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - A Lahore anti-terrorism court issued a ruling with five death sentences for the perpetrators of the lynching of a Christian couple: Shahbaz Masih, 26, and Shama Bibi, 24, killed in Kot Radha Kishan, in the district of Kasur (Punjab province), on 4 November 2014, following the accusation of having committed alleged blasphemy. Among the five sentenced to death, one is a Muslim religious. The judge also ordered a fine of 200,000 rupees for each of the convicted and imposed a-two- year imprisonment sentence to eight other defendants involved.
The couple, who were working in a brick kiln, were first kidnapped and tortured and then burnt alive in the furnace. The lynching had an international resonance and sparked reactions of outrage in Pakistan and abroad. The two left three children who are now living with their maternal grandfather.
The Catholic Michelle Chaudhry, president of the "Cecil Chaudhry & Iris Foundation", an organization that today deals with the legal protection and education of the three orphaned children of the couple, told Fides: "Justice is done. Although as Catholics we reject the death penalty, we believe it is important that a court acted promptly, in just two years, and punished the culprits. It is a sign of maturity of the Pakistani judicial system that respects the rights and demands for justice for everyone, including religious minorities who often suffer unpunished violence. The government of Pakistan must ensure safety and security to every single citizen of Pakistan regardless of faith, as enshrined in the Constitution".
Chaudhry concludes: "Shama and Shahzad are two innocent people who were killed because of hatred and intolerance. In that furnace humanity, the teachings of Islam and the democratic Pakistan of Ali Jinnah were burned".
The two were killed by a crowd of more than 600 Muslims instigated by the religious leaders of the area, although they continued to proclaim their innocence. About 40 suspects, including the owner of the kiln, were arrested the day after the murder. As Fides learns, the fast legal action was welcomed among religious minorities, since the blasphemy law in Pakistan is too often abused and exploited for private disputes. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 24/11/2016)