On Tuesday, a Muslim mob severely beat a Christian couple accused of burning pages of the Koran in eastern Pakistan and then incinerated the bodies in a brick kiln. Shama Bibi, who was four months pregnant, and her husband Shahbaz Masih were bonded laborers at a brick factory in the village of Kot Radha Kishan in the Punjab province, 28 miles south of Lahore.
The tragedy followed in the wake of last month’s court decision that condemned a Christian woman to death, Asia Bibi, who was convicted of blasphemy in 2010. Since the 1990s, a number of Christians have been charged with desecrating the Koran or of committing blasphemy. While sentences have been overturned due to lack of evidence, even a mere accusation of blasphemy can incite mob violence.
Regional Coordinator for Pakistan of the United Religions Initiative, Father James Channan, O.P., the former Vice-Provincial of the Dominican order in Pakistan, for which he serves as director of the Peace Center, made the following statement to Aid to the Church in Need:
”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. It was triggered by the false accusation of the burning of some pages of the Koran.
“Muslims and Christians alike are victimized by controversial blasphemy laws that stipulate life imprisonment for desecrating the Koran 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 Koran or insult the dignity of the Prophet Mohammed?
“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.
“Extremist Muslims, incited by mere accusations, have murdered other Muslims as well as Christians. But the Christian community is most vulnerable, since an accusation leveled 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.
“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.
“What should be done? Pressure on our government from other countries will help. 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.”