They were burned alive by a frenzied mob, but only a few have been convicted
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS – November 24, 2016) — The brutal murder of a Christian Pakistani couple, Shahzad Masih, 27, and Shama Bibi, 24, shocked the world and made international headlines.
The gruesome incident took place on November 9, 2014, in the tiny hamlet of Chak 59 near Kot Radha Kishan town, 31 miles southwest of Lahore in Pakistan.
The two illiterate Christians had been accused of disposing of a Quran in their regular garbage, an act that in Pakistan is deemed as “blasphemy” and ferments instant frenzied attacks on the innocent accused people.
According to the British Pakistan Christian Association (BPCA), the terrible murders took place on November 4, 2014, when a Pakistani mob of at least 3,000, beat nearly to death, Shahzad and Shama, his pregnant wife, for her alleged “blasphemy,” then threw them both into a large furnace within a brick kiln where they both worked as bonded laborers.
During the attack, Shama was wrapped in cotton so she would set alight faster, relatives who witnessed the horrific attack revealed. The couple also had their legs broken so they could not flee the mob that locked them inside the brick-making factory where they worked.
“They picked them up by their arms and legs and held them over the brick furnace until their clothes caught fire,” family spokesman, Javed Masih, told NBC News at the time. “And then they threw them inside the furnace.”
He said Bibi, a mother of four who was then four months pregnant, was wearing clothing that did not initially catch fire, so the mob removed her from over the kiln and wrapped her up in cotton to make sure that the material would burn faster.
By the time the attack was over, only charred bones and the couple’s discarded shoes remained. “The bones are still being found,” Javed Masih told NBC hours after the attack. “Friends keep on collecting them and bringing them to us in batches of two or three. We will bury these bones when we have enough for the bodies. But we will not find all of them, I’m sure.”
The couple’s eldest son Suleman, who was only six at the time, described in television interviews after the barbaric attack, how he saw his mother and father twitching in the flames of the fire that slowly consumed them.
“His chilling words that should never have been aired, gave the impression that the couple were still alive as they burned,” said a BPCA spokesperson.
To make matters worse, local police officers supposedly investigating the brutal murders, claimed that there was “no evidence of a crime.”
Riaz Anjum, the lawyer representing the couple’s family, told the BPCA that a total of 103 people had been charged in the case. However, the anti-terrorism court in the eastern city of Lahore, acquitted 90 of them, including the owner of the brick kiln where they had worked.
The owner is alleged to have locked the couple in a store room on his land after they had asked to leave his brick kiln slave camp, so they could flee from a potential mob attack.
“Apparently, the couple had learnt how the local mosque was inciting hatred towards them after a false allegation of blasphemy had been laid against them. But, to prevent his slaves escaping and defaulting on their debt to him, he locked them up, thus preventing them escaping to safety,” said the BPCA spokesperson.
On Wednesday, November 23, 2016, the Lahore-based Anti-Terrorism Court has convicted and sentenced five men to death by hanging and imposed large fines on each of them, (which will have to be paid by their families). Eight other men involved in the ruthless incident have been given two year sentences.
Riaz Anjum said that, according to the judgement from Senior prosecutor, Khurram Khan, who has confirmed the ruling, the five-people given the death sentence, “were involved in dragging, beating and burning the couple, while the other eight played a supportive role according to the judgement.”
Mukhtar Masih, the father of Shama, said: “We were unable to attend the court due to the risk to our safety. I am disappointed with today’s result as my eldest daughter Yasmeen, who saw the whole incident, witnessed at least 15 men involved in the brutal violence against my daughter, Shama, and her husband, Shahzad.
“Only five of those men have been convicted with a death sentence, yet the others poured kerosene over Shama and Shahzad and were also violent. Two years’ imprisonment for those who were involved in a lesser capacity for a crime that lead to two deaths seems too lenient.”
He went on to say, “My life, and the lives of Suleman, Sonia and Poonam [Children of Shama and Shahzad] have been devastated. We are now starting to receive death threats from all the families of those accused and fear for our lives. This small justice could still end up costing us even more.”
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, told the ASSIST News Service, “These convictions are a watershed moment for the Pakistani Christians. It is rare for perpetrators of violence against Christians to receive a conviction, and for the sentencing to be so strong. This court case sends out a strong message that violence will be met with the weight of the law in Pakistan. The perceived impunity for mob attacks on Christians has been countered and we now hope that it will reduce such crimes.”
He added: “The family of Shama and Shahzad now need a time for solace and healing. The ongoing case, and the constant death threats on the family, have taken their toll. The couple’s children, often question why they and their parents were hated so much. The government of Pakistan must ensure that they work with us and other groups to ensure the protection of this beleaguered family it should be of paramount importance. Quite frankly the family have suffered enough.”
Chowdhry also said, “Thanks to donations, BPCA has been able to not only repaint the family’s home, but also buy the children comfortable beds, bedside cupboards, and school supplies. Their daily nanny provides them with a regular maternal influence but soon BPCA may have to relocate them due to increased threat to their lives.
“We are committed to Shama and Shahzad’s children, and we will continue to do all that we can to provide for them, but we need your help to do so.”
Wilson Chowdhry said that BPCA is now accepting online donations at https://britishpakistanichristians.worldsecuresystems.com/donate.
“Please give what you can afford, no matter how small, and join with us in showing them the daily love and care that they need,” he said.
Photo captions: 1) The couple that were burned alive. 2) Pakistani Christians lay floral wreaths at the brick kiln where the Christian couple were burned alive. 3) Suleman, Sonia and Poonam [children of Shama and Shahzad] receive a Children’s’ Bible from Leighton Medley and Mehwish Bhatti of the BPCA at a revival meeting in Kasur on November 19, 2016. 4) Dan Wooding with his BPCA award.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 53 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the author of some 45 books and has two TV programs and one radio show in Southern California. Dan has been given a special award for his long-standing reporting on the persecution of Pakistani Christians by the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA).
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