A Pakistani court announced the verdict of the horrific case of the lynching and burning alive of a Christian couple on false charges of blasphemy.
More than 100 arrests were made in the case, which occurred in 2014 at a brick factory in the Kasur District of Punjab, where a mob of 400 Islamists beat and burnt Shama Bibi and Shahzad Masih, a young couple in their thirties with three children.
Shama was five months pregnant at the time.
For the last two years, Christians in Pakistan were waiting to see the outcome of the case, but the courts took their time reaching a verdict. Yesterday, the court sentenced five people to death, nine people to two years in prison each for aiding and abetting the crime and let off close to 90 people for lack of evidence.
Knowing the track record of the Pakistani justice system, the audacious verdict took the community by surprise, opening up a gate to justice for minorities in the heavily Muslim country.
The horrific incident occurred in November 2014 after Shahzad’s father, said to be a local faith healer, passed away. The couple, both workers at the Kot Radha Kishan brick factory, were cleaning the father’s room and burning everything, including his books and papers. A local vendor, himself illiterate, roaming the area, shouted that they were burning pages of the Quran, charging them with blasphemy.
The issue of blasphemy in Pakistan is always very sensitive, however, most of the time, false accusations of blasphemy are used to settle personal vendettas.
As a result of the concocted story, a mob gathered in the blink of an eye and began attacking the couple. Their legs, arms and all other body parts were broken by the barbaric crowd, who did not bother to listen to their pleas for mercy.
Rather on the instructions of the brick kiln owner, the broken couple was taken to the top of the burning furnace, the lid was opened and they were thrown in.
The incident reverberated across the world. A Vatican official called it “a humiliation for all of the humanity.”
The judgment was seen as a positive step towards justice and safety for minorities in Pakistan. While this could be true, the case was dealt with like any other criminal cases. No special consideration was given regarding the fact that the couple belonged to a small Christian minority; rather, it was an open and shut case of a daylight lynching in the presence of hundreds of mob attendees. Many of them turned to be witnesses against those who actually killed and torched the couple alive.
Still, the case has serious implications. Hopefully, the verdict will serve as the precedent as well as hinders potential offenders of such practices.
Although equality for minorities in the country still has a long way to go, the verdict could be a message from Pakistan to the international community that Pakistan is committed to equal justice for its marginalized minorities.
Kaleem Dean is human rights activist and journalist from Pakistan. He currently lives in the UK. He was the publisher of Christian Monitor in Pakistan, a leading Christian newspaper which covers minority issues. He presently writes for various Pakistani papers. Write to him at [email protected]