Pakistani Christians living in fear after mob killings over blasphemy

By AFP
Published: December 23, 2015
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In this photograph taken on November 19, 2015, Pakistani labourers work at a brick factory, where a Christian couple were lynched and burnt alive, in the town of Kot Radha Kishan. PHOTO: AFP

In this photograph taken on November 19, 2015, Pakistani labourers work at a brick factory, where a Christian couple were lynched and burnt alive, in the town of Kot Radha Kishan. PHOTO: AFP

KOT RADHA KISHAN: Four-year-old Aliya’s life collapsed last year when her illiterate Christian parents were falsely accused of tossing out pages of the Holy Quran in their rubbish, and then lynched and burnt on a brick kiln by an angry mob.

The mob killing of Shama Bibi and Shahzad Masih triggered outrage in Pakistan, where desecration of Holy Quran is legally punishable by death and even unproven allegations of blasphemy often lead to bloody killings at the hands of vigilantes.

Police arrest Christian labourer for blasphemy

After the ordeal on November 4, 2014, Aliya, which is not her real name, left the dusty brick factory where even as a toddler she had worked with her family as bonded labourers. Five other Christian families also fled.

n this photograph taken on November 19, 2015, Pakistani labourers work at a brick factory, where a Christian couple were lynched and burnt alive, in the town of Kot Radha Kishan. PHOTO: AFP

Now she comes home from school every day, wearing her backpack and new shoes, to the lower-class area of Lahore where she lives with her maternal grandfather, elder brother and sister.

The children play cricket on the roof terrace of the tiny, two-room concrete house, with a view of a dusty track lined with small rivers of sewage.

But their hearts are not in their new lives, built far away from the factory — even as Christmas approaches. “The children often cry for their parents,” sighs their grandfather, who AFP is not naming, saying that even a year on the family does not feel safe.

In this photograph taken on November 19, 2015, Pakistani labourers work at a brick factory, where a Christian couple were lynched and burnt alive, in the town of Kot Radha Kishan. PHOTO: AFP

Their sense of insecurity persists even though authorities have taken unusually strong measures to protect people like Shama and Shahzad, who were eventually found to be falsely accused.

The police have traditionally been reluctant to clamp down on those who take part in mob violence for fear of enraging people in this conservative Muslim country of 200 million.

But with the country’s top leadership seemingly more determined to tackle religious extremism in the wake of a Taliban school massacre last year that left more than 150 dead, matters could be slowly changing.

In this photograph taken on November 19, 2015, Pakistani labourers work at a brick factory, where a Christian couple were lynched and burnt alive, in the town of Kot Radha Kishan. PHOTO: AFP

Pakistani courts appear to have shifted to a more moderate stance on blasphemy recently, warning against false accusations and bailing one accused after she had languished in jail for three years.

Christian couple killed for ‘desecrating Holy Quran’ near Lahore: police

In the Christian couple’s case, more than 100 people are still in jail — including the factory owner, who has been accused of locking them up when they tried to flee as the blasphemy allegations gathered steam because he thought they would default on their debt to him.

Five other factory executives are also imprisoned, as well as two Muslim clerics accused of spreading the rumour and encouraging the mob to attack the couple.

In this photograph taken on November 19, 2015, Pakistani labourers work at a brick factory, where a Christian couple were lynched and burnt alive, in the town of Kot Radha Kishan. PHOTO: AFP

Pakistan inherited its blasphemy law from former colonial power Britain, which devised the code to ensure communal harmony in the then undivided India. New sections were introduced in the 1980s under military ruler General Ziaul Haq, which elevated Islam above all other religions and introduced the death penalty as part of his broader Islamisation agenda.

Critics say the law, often misused by people carrying out personal vendettas, is feeding violence particularly against minorities. “Such legislation can cause hatred, prejudice, and within that prejudice, may cause violence,” says human rights activist Hina Jilani.

Though Pakistan has never executed a blasphemy convict, more than 50 people accused of the crime have been killed before their trials were completed and 17 are currently languishing on the charge on death row.

In this photograph taken on November 19, 2015, a Pakistani labourer works at a brick factory, where a Christian couple were lynched and burnt alive, in the town of Kot Radha Kishan. PHOTO: AFP

What happened to the couple, though it sent shock and anger through the country, is far from unique. At least seven other people were murdered by vigilantes last year after being accused of supporting or committing blasphemy, though none this year.

Blasphemy allegations: Mob torches factory in Jhelum

In the case of the Christian couple it emerged after the brutal killing the allegations were unfounded, as often happens. Shahzad’s father, a faith healer who used pages with inscriptions in many languages for his work, had died shortly before the incident. The family was burning documents that belonged to him.

In the red mud fields where the couple worked for 20 years under the towering chimney of the brick kiln, they are remembered by the ragged, poverty-stricken wretches who laboured alongside them as “good people”.

“They were workers like us, our brothers. What happened to them is unfair and we are sad,” said Rasheed Muhammad, one of their Muslim colleagues.

Shahzad’s elder brother Iqbal, who also worked at the factory, said he still fears for his life, and police have to escort him to his court appearances. “They could take us too,” he said.

Riaz Anjum, the family’s Christian lawyer, says he is “100 per cent sure that they will get justice”, and the killers will be held to account, despite the slow pace of the legal process.

But real change, he said, would only come when the law is amended — a cause which Pakistan’s government has not pushed for since 2011, when two political leaders who spoke out against the legislation were killed.

Until such time, he sighs, “blasphemy remains a sword over our heads.”

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Saad
    Dec 23, 2015 - 5:40PM

    Pakistanis are only worried about the Hijabi who gets insulted on the train in the US. Christians and other minorities are expendable.Recommend

  • jayn
    Dec 23, 2015 - 5:42PM

    But Pakistani are more concerned about what happens in India ! Recommend

  • Malatesh
    Dec 23, 2015 - 5:46PM

    When this happens in India, big debate, award wapsi, uproar in the parliament despite when all the culprits have arrested by police within 24hrs. If this happens anywhere else then deep silence, no single comment.. Recommend

  • John B
    Dec 23, 2015 - 7:53PM

    “they are remembered by the ragged, poverty-stricken wretches who laboured alongside them as “good people”.

    This commented observation in the article says it all. only the poor care for the poor and rarely in a society the rich has conscience to tackle the problem of the poor. Until a society takes upon itself that the poor and meek are its responsibility, regardless of religion, there is no progress.

    The issue in PAK towards Christians is not blasphemy law alone. They are poor, socially come from the archaic system of low caste , which even the Hindus reject and moved on . yet, in pak the state institutions have systematically marginalized the poor Christians in government jobs and society marginalized them due to its bigotry, along with the rest of the poor. The rich Karachi and Punjabi Christians fled.

    Pak cannot progress unless her poor progress. Blasphemy law is the poverty of mind. Recommend

  • Dec 23, 2015 - 8:43PM

    Punitive fines, confiscation of properties of the accused, cutting the supplies of gas, water and electricity to the whole village will reduce this type crimes.Recommend

  • Milind
    Dec 23, 2015 - 9:01PM

    @Malatesh – This is true of Christians (Indian & non-Indian) as well.. They will overlook the fact that India and Hindus have been kind and tolerant to them and will create commotion and badmouth BJP and Hindutvawadis without proof. The rape of nun in WB is case in point.. After blaming the Hindutvawadis, it was found that the culprits were Bangladeshi Muslims…No apologies later.Recommend

  • genesis
    Dec 23, 2015 - 9:26PM

    It is these same people who are flooding to Christian nations as refugees.Fortunately many of them are being identified and deported.Recommend

  • From_Bangalore
    Dec 23, 2015 - 9:44PM

    Interestingly, in India Christians are richer than majority Hindus. This is true with ALL other minorities too (like Sikhs, Jains etc) except for Muslims (just google and you will get this data from many authentic studies). Related point is, all minorities in India except for Muslims have a better literacy rate. This proves that the sure way to breakaway from poverty in India is education and not your religion.

    Wish all the minorities of pre-partition India moved to Indian side in 1947 for a more respectable life (not withstanding the occasional religious problems that happen that are exception rather than rule). Recommend

  • observer
    Dec 23, 2015 - 10:28PM

    @John B:

    “Blasphemy law is the poverty of mind.”

    You just committed blasphemy by criticizing divine law.Recommend

  • Politically Incorrect
    Dec 23, 2015 - 11:08PM

    Replace “Pakistani” with “Indian” in the above article & there would’ve been at least 100 comments here.Recommend

  • Dec 24, 2015 - 12:52AM

    My duas for the bereaved and frightened villagers. This is not good. Something has to be done in the country for all bonded labor. Have the killers been traced and caught? No! The police are still trying to trace them although leads have been received and they will be caught in the dreams. What has happened to Pakistan? SalamsRecommend

  • Parvez
    Dec 24, 2015 - 1:35AM

    It is the MISUSE of the blasphemy law that needs to be addressed…….unless this happens the law will continue to be MISUSED giving religion a bad name.Recommend

  • IndianDude
    Dec 24, 2015 - 3:36AM

    That is how they say ‘Merry Christmas’ (or as the Christians probably call it being Pakistanis, ‘meri kismet’) in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Ayati
    Dec 24, 2015 - 4:25AM

    Dont worry fellas. This is all normal life in Pakistan. Killing of Shias, Hazaras, Christians, Ahmadis, and sikhs,vandalizing their properties and places of worship and accusing them of blasphemy! If some incident happens in India, wewill come out in droves to protest.Recommend

  • Vikram
    Dec 24, 2015 - 8:24AM

    Pakistan has never executed a blasphemy convict, more than 50 people accused of the crime have been killed before their trials….17 are currently languishing on the charge on death row. Recommend

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