Christians in India express concern over abuses of blasphemy law in Pakistan
In a letter to the High Commissioner, Dr. Dayal, also expressed the shock of the Christian community in India at the brutal torture and burning alive of a bonded labour couple, Shahzad and Shama Masih, near Lahore two weeks ago.
The following is the text of the letter given to the Pakistani High Commissioner for conveying the feelings of the Indian Christians to the Government of Pakistan and to the Honourable Prime Minister:
Thank you for your courtesy when I spoke to you about the twin issues of the burning alive of 28-year old Shahzad Masih and his five-month-pregnant wife Shama Masih, 24, in a brick kiln in Lahore’s Radha Kishan Kot recently, and the continuing incarceration since 2009 of Aisa Bibi [Aashiya Noreen] of Sheikhupura, arrested on trumped up charges, and sentenced to death under Pakistan’s infamous Blasphemy Law.
We understand that in over 300 cases under the Blasphemy laws in Pakistan, perhaps more than 250 are been filed against various Muslim sects, including Shias and Ahmedias, and others. This is little consolation to the victims, most of who are targetted under absolutely false charges to settle local scores, or to terrorize religious minorities, specially the tiny Christian community in the country.
These two cases have shocked the world, and have exercised the global Christian community. We in India are particularly concerned as we campaign for the full protection of religious minorities in India – specially Muslims – and their Constitutional and democratic rights. We also campaign against Capital punishment, and impunity.
Christian groups have offered to take care of Aisa Bibi, who is ill, and her family. We in India will be very happy to take care of her medical needs and of her family if she is allowed to come to India. We therefore appeal to you to impress on the Government if Pakistan to set Aisa Bibi free and to allow her and her family to travel to India.
Aisa Bibi’s is a test case of miscarriage of justice under political pressure. Fundamentalist groups have threatened the members of the court and her defence team. She was arrested on 19 June 2009 and sentenced to death by a lower court in November 2010. Since then, she has been in solitary confinement for security reasons, and has become a symbol of the struggle against the blasphemy law. Human rights groups have described her case as symptomatic of the deeply rooted problems of prejudice, inefficiency, corruption, and under-resourcing, which are amplified in blasphemy cases, specially for Christians and other religious minorities.
We join Human rights groups in Pakistan such as the Cecil Chaudhry & Iris Foundation (CICF), in praying Aisa Biwi will be vindicated at the Supreme Court. We too urge Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk to consider Asia Bibi’s case with the utmost urgency and to ensure her safety”.
The brutal torture and murder of Shahzad and Shama Masih in Kot Radha Kishan is a case not just of trumped up charges but also of impunity as it took place in the presence of policemen and on the orders of a local Panchayat comprising notables and clerics of the area. Well respected newspapers of Pakistan have reported how mobs were mobilized to collect at a brick kiln, and how the couple were beaten, tortured and then burnt to death. They were eliminated because they were trying to come out of their status as bonded labour.
We call upon the Government of Pakistan to make a test case out of this double murder so that all those guilty in the conspiracy and crime are punished, and a string message goes out to others that the government is determined to stop violence against religious minorities.
We once again repeat our call that the Blasphemy Laws, which have brought such tragedy and pain to innocent people of Pakistan, is repealed and the rights of religious minorities are guaranteed under your national as well as international statutes.