LAHORE: Police clarified on Wednesday that the murder of a Christian couple accused of blasphemy was incited by an Imam of a local mosque.
An enraged mob on November 4 beat the couple to death and then burnt their bodies in the brick kiln where they worked, for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran.
The incident took place in the town of Kot Radha Kishan, some 60 kilometres from Lahore, and is the latest example of mob violence against minorities accused of blasphemy. The victims were only identified by their first names, Shama and Shehzad, and were a married couple.
“We have arrested 44 people, it was a local issue incited by the mullah of a local mosque,” Jawad Qamar, a regional police chief, told Reuters.
“No particular sectarian group or religious outfit was behind the attack,” Qamar added.
Police arrested 44 suspects in relation to the incident and filed cases against 468 others.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the murderers of a Christian couple accused of blasphemy will be brought to justice.
"The brutal murder of the Christian couple in Kot Radha Krishan is an unacceptable crime," the premier stated.
"A responsible state cannot tolerate mob rule and public lynching with impunity,” he added.
PM Nawaz has directed Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to show no mercy and allow the law to take its course to punish those responsible.
"The Pakistani state has to act proactively to protect its minorities from violence and injustice. We must promote religious and ethnic diversity in our society as a virtue," the PM further said.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had also constituted a three-member committee to fast track the investigation of the killings and ordered police to beef up security at Christian neighbourhoods in the province.
Amnesty International calls for justice
Global rights watchdog Amnesty International has asked Pakistan to bring to justice those responsible for the killing of the Christian couple.
“This vicious mob killing is just the latest manifestation of the threat of vigilante violence which anyone can face in Pakistan after a blasphemy accusation – although religious minorities are disproportionately vulnerable. Those responsible must be brought to justice and the Pakistani authorities have to ensure at-risk communities are proactively given the protection they need,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director David Griffiths.
“The blasphemy laws violate international human rights law and standards and should be reformed as a matter of urgency to provide effective safeguards against their abuse, with a view to their eventual repeal. Consistent failure by the government to tackle violence in the name of religion has effectively sent the message that anyone can commit outrageous abuses and excuse them as defence of religious sentiments,” he added.
Referring to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s decision to form a three-member committee and to increase security at Christian neighbourhoods in the province, Griffiths said, “The local government’s response is encouraging, but it remains to be seen what comes of the investigation. The climate of impunity around violence against religious minorities in Pakistan is pervasive, and it is all too rare that those behind attacks are held to account.”
Strongly condemning violence against the Christian couple, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) demanded that the culprits be arrested and given exemplary punishment.
PPP's Human Rights Cell central coordinator Dr Nafisa Shah called for a judicial inquiry into the misuse of blasphemy laws so that adequate amendments can be made against those who wrongfully accuse others.
Shah further said the misuse of these laws has led to constant insecurity among the minorities and has allowed people to take law into their own hands. "It has also made it increasingly difficult for the judiciary to do justice as it is under pressure from religious zealots," she added.