ANDREW Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, on Wednesday said that he was saddened to learn of a Christian couple who were beaten and burned to death by a local mob in Pakistan’s Punjab province, Pakistan.
He said: “My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the deceased.
“The two victims, Shahzad and Shama Masih, were said to be in their mid-20s and expecting a child. They leave behind three children. It has also been reported that following a financial dispute, the two were accused of blasphemy, a charge that sparked the mob to attack the couple.
“This is only the latest in a long series of religiously motivated, violent attacks on individuals who are accused, often falsely, under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws. It underscores the need to support Pakistani civil society to strengthen pluralism, human rights and the rule of law, and for the Pakistani government to reform the blasphemy laws to prevent their abuse, as they are used disproportionately and often opportunistically to target religious minorities.
“Canada strongly denounces such violence, and we call for Pakistani authorities to ensure both the personal safety of all Pakistani citizens and the right of all religious communities to practise their faiths in peace and security, free from violent attack.”
IANS / EFE add: Police have detained 43 people involved in the murder of a Christian couple by a Muslim mob for allegedly desecrating the Koran in Pakistan, a police source told EFE news agency Wednesday.
The detainees were residents of Kot Rasha Kishan town in Punjab province where the couple was killed in a bricks factory and their bodies burnt in an oven Tuesday, police spokesperson Bin Yameen said.
The police are searching for the factory manager for his alleged involvement in the killings.
Pakistan’s controversial and ambiguous anti-blasphemy legislation punishes any disrespect towards sacred Islamic symbols, but it is often applied arbitrarily and on the basis of third-party testimony.
The norm came into force during the British colonial period to curb religious clashes, but the reforms introduced in the 1980s by Zia-ul-Haq encouraged the extremists to abuse the law.
The continuous strengthening of legislation and radicalisation of the country since the 1980s has sparked accusations of blasphemy and extrajudicial executions of alleged blasphemers, usually belonging to religious minorities.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the murder of the couple. He termed it “an unacceptable crime”, a media report said Thursday.
“A responsible state cannot tolerate mob rule and public lynching with impunity,” Sharif said.
“I have directed the Punjab chief minister to show no mercy and the law should take its course to punish those who are responsible for this act,” the report quoted Sharif as saying.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has ordered a probe and the police have been told to beef up security at in Christian neighbourhoods, an official said.