Murder of pregnant woman and spouse for “blasphemy” called barbaric

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By John Newton and Joop Koopman
A SENIOR Dominican in Pakistan condemned the murder of a man and his pregnant wife for blasphemy as the worst religiously motivated hate crime in the country’s history.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Fr James Channan OP said: “The barbaric act by fanatic Pakistani Muslims of burning alive a poor Christian couple is a crime against humanity.
“It is the worst crime in the history of Pakistan committed in the name of religion.”
On Tuesday 4th November, a mob killed Shama Bibi, who was four months pregnant, and her husband Shahbaz Masih, accusing them of burning pages of the Qur’an.
After beating the couple they incinerated their bodies in a brick kiln. Reports state that Shahbaz Masih was still alive, although badly wounded, when he was thrown into the kiln.
The couple were bonded labourers at the brick factory where they were killed near Kot Radha Kishan village, Punjab province, 28 miles south of Lahore.
Fr Channan, the former Vice-Provincial of the Dominican order in Pakistan and the country’s coordinator for the United Religions Initiative, told ACN that the problem was Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
He said: “Muslims and Christians alike are victimised by controversial blasphemy laws that stipulate life imprisonment for desecrating the Qur’an and the death sentence for defaming or insulting the Prophet of Islam.
“The problem with these laws is that most often they are used to settle personal scores, such [as] business disputes.
“In any case, who in their sound mind would burn pages of the Qur’an or insult the dignity of the Prophet Mohammed?”
The blasphemy laws – sections 295 and 298 of the criminal code – impose severe penalties for offences against Islam.
1107Pakistan_Fr James Channan praying with the victims' familyAccording to section 298, deliberately “wounding the religious feelings of any person” is an offence that can warrant imprisonment or a fine.
Fr Channan said: “Most problematic is that these laws are very vague – plus most Pakistanis are illiterate – hence, the application of the law is very easily abused, with people taking matters into their own hands, as happened in Kot Radha Kishan.”
As the Dominican priest pointed out, while all religious minorities are affected by these laws – including Muslims from the Shi‘a minority – Christians are frequently subjected to violence following blasphemy accusations.
He said: “The Christian community is most vulnerable, since an accusation levelled against a single individual can provoke violence aimed at his or her family as well as the entire local community.
“Homes are attached, churches are burned down and people are killed.”
In the case of the Masihs’ deaths police figures describe the mob as being 2,000 strong – although some reports suggest up to 4,000 people were involved.
Fr Channan highlighted the problem of extra-judicial vengeance following blasphemy accusations.
He said “These laws are so dangerous that once a person is accused his or her life in Pakistan has become impossible.
“Even if the courts eventually declare an individual innocent, radical Muslims may still murder the person, which is considered an act worthy of praise.”
The Dominican called on the international community to exert pressure on the government of Pakistan.
“The UN should get involved and condemn such crimes against humanity, while appointing fact-finding commissions to investigate matters on the ground.
“These are but some of the measures that may help to put an end to such barbaric acts as the cruel killing of the Christian couple and their unborn child.”