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By ICC’s Pakistan Correspondent

12/17/2014 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Forty days after the grisly murder of a Christian couple from the Kasur district in Pakistan, the Christian community, led by religious leadership and human rights organizations, gathered and honored the Christian couple, as a community, on December 12, 2014. The incident took place on November 4, when the couple was beaten by a large mob and burned alive in a brick kiln after being accused of committing blasphemy. This incident has shaken Pakistan’s Christian community to the core with many demanding the government do more to protect the future of the country’s vulnerable Christian population.

A Christian Couple Remembered

The ceremony, which took place in a Catholic Church, was attended by over 150 individuals. The participants attended the prayer service wearing black ribbons on their arms as a sign of mourning and remembrance. They offered prayers, stood silent for a minute and lit candles in front of the images of the murdered couple. The ceremony’s speakers condemned the incident that took the couple’s lives, shared their views on prevailing religious extremism and mob violence against Christians, and urged the government to take stricter action against those who misuse Pakistan’s controversial and often abused blasphemy laws.

Shama Bibi, age 28 and five-months pregnant, and her husband, Shahzad Masih, age 32, were burned alive in a brick kiln in Kot Radha Kishan, (Chak # 59), a locality in the Kasur district, nearly 35 miles north of Lahore. A mob of hundreds of enraged Muslims murdered the Christian couple after they were accused of burning pages of the Quran. The couple’s murder left their four children, age seven to two, orphaned.

International Christian Concern (ICC) learned on the day of the incident that a cleric in Kot Radha Kishan had announced through a mosque’s loudspeaker that a Christian couple had desecrated the Quran. After the accusation was made, hundreds of Muslim villagers gathered at a brick kiln where the Christian couple was said to be located. They reportedly dragged the couple from a house they were hiding in, beat them brutally and threw them into the kiln after dousing them with petrol, burning them alive.

According to facts collected by ICC’s correspondent, the Christian couple worked at the brick kiln owned by Mr. Muhammad Yousaf Gujjar. Local sources claimed the Christian couple resisted attempts to convert to Islam, despite attractive offers being made to them. In reaction to this resistance, the local Muslims accused them of setting pages of the Quran on fire, which resulted in their brutal murder.

Calls For Justice And Reform

Talking to ICC, Fr. Cecil Paul of the Nai Zindgi Welfare Foundation said, “It is on record that [for] almost three decades, clerics have been misusing the mosques’ amplifiers for instigating [the] Muslim community to attack the Christians. Violence against Christians in Pakistan is increasingly rapidly, therefore government should take affirmative action to ensure [the] freedom of religion and protection of minorities in the country.

Protests and demonstrations followed the killing of the Christian couple in many cities across Pakistan. The participants in these demonstrations demanded justice, protection for minorities and a repeal of the blasphemy laws.

While taking part in a protest rally, Sister Genevieve, a nun and the National Coordinator of Pakistan Catholic Women’s Organization, condemned the “brutal behavior” of Muslims involved in murdering the Christian couple. She urged the authorities to ensure the protection of Christians and their places of worship. She further demanded that the misuse of blasphemy laws be stopped.

Mr. Peter Jacob, a senior human rights activist, condemned the violence against the Christian couple when he talked to ICC. Jacob said, “The current legal system promotes violence in the name of the religion.” He urged the authorities to ensure protection and dignity of every individual and stop the misuse of blasphemy laws in the country.

Mr. Farooq Tariq, General Secretary Awami Workers Party, also condemned the incident stating, “The Christian couple was brutally tortured to death by the local Muslims. It was [a] shameful act not only for the people of Pakistan, but for the followers of Islam as well.”

Where Does Pakistan Go From Here?

According to data collected by DIGNITY First, fifty eight people have been killed by mob violence after blasphemy allegations have been made in last twenty seven years. Also, about 1,440 people of different faith backgrounds have been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan since the laws were put in place.

A high level inquiry team, put together by the Chief Minister of Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif, has termed the Christian couple innocent and has urged strict punishment for the perpetrators of this heinous crime. Chief Minister Sharif visited the family of the deceased Christian couple and announced a compensation of five million Pakistani Rupees and 10 acres of land for the orphaned children; however, no action has been noticed in this regard.

Global outrage towards the Kot Radha Kishan Christian couple’s killing also shocked several right-wing political parties and religious clerics in Pakistan. Pakistan Ulema Council, condemned the killing of the Christian couple, while chief of another religious-political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, also visited the family and termed this violence unprecedented, un-Islamic and inhuman.

According to local sources, the District Police Officer submitted a report to the Supreme Court of Pakistan regarding the incident. Forty-three people were arrested in connection with the incident shortly after it took place. Out of that number, thirty nine have been released on bail. The remaining four were remanded, interrogated and sent into judicial custody last month.

Since this brutal murder, many Christians and other religious minority groups have sensed a growing feeling of insecurity in Pakistan. Instances of violence directed against Pakistan’s religious minority communities continues to increase each year with false blasphemy accusations being the justification for many of these attacks. Is there a future for Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan? Only time will tell.