By Michael Ireland, Senior Reporter, ASSIST News Service, firstname.lastname@example.org
PAKISTAN (ANS, November 5, 2015) — This week marked one year since young Christian siblings in Pakistan lost their both their parents, Shama Bibi, 24, and her husband, Sajjad Masih, 27 (who was also known by his nickname “Shahbaz,” on the same day, and in the same way.
Shama, who was pregnant at the time, was killed alongside her husband for alleged blasphemy and 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 a brick-making factory before their murder.
The couple were surrounded by crowd of at least 1,200 and thrown on top of a brick kiln where they were burned alive, witnesses said.
“Such a double loss would be a tragedy in any circumstances, but these children’s parents were lynched, beaten and burned to death by a Muslim mob for alleged ‘blasphemy,’ (then) thrown alive into the brick kiln where they worked,” said Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), www.britishpakistanichristians.org .
In an email update on the case, Chowdhry said: “Let us imagine, as best we can, as adult westerners, what these children would have experienced. Very young, they had only known poverty, with several older siblings farmed out to relatives who could support them. They would likely not understand that their parents were borderline slaves, working as ‘bonded laborers.’ They would not have known that their pregnant mother was being sexually abused by the accountant/manager at the brick kiln, nor that their parents were being cheated of their wages and debt repayments, which is a typical happening.”
Chowdhry stated: “But when their grandfather died, their mother cleaned out his house and burned some magic occult papers. This was the trigger for accusations of blasphemy by Muslim neighbors, who claimed she was burning holy words from the Quran. The children likely wouldn’t know that in villages all around, imams were using mosque loud-speakers to urge villagers to punish the blasphemous unbelievers.”
Chowdhry stated that at least one of the children witnessed some of what happened when the mob arrived at the brick kiln office where the couple had been forcibly locked up, before being whisked away to safety by an uncle.
“If they had seen it all, this is what they would have seen,” Chowdhry said. “They would have seen the mob storm the office and drag out their parents, both in their 20’s. They would have seen their parents stripped naked and dragged around the village whilst being savagely beaten so that every limb, every arm and leg of both their mother and father were broken. They would have seen their parents being thrown – reportedly still alive – into the brick kiln where they had labored as virtual slaves.”
According to some reports, when their mother wouldn’t burn, she was taken out and covered in fuel, and thrown back in, Chowdhry said. “They would have seen the police officers present do nothing to try and stop the lynching of these despised Christians that was unfolding in front of them, not even to fire their guns in the air to try and break up the mob. Imagine the trauma. Any child would be confused and grief-stricken if their parents both died in the same day. Never to see their parents again, an aching hole forever.”
The British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) has undertaken to help look after these children as best they can.
“We have employed a nanny to try and bring some semblance of care, providing food and shelter and the washing and similar (care) that parents would provide. Unlike many other groups who arrive, take photos, and claim they are doing something, we really are. As long as funds permit, we will help provide food, which comes at about £50GBP ($75USD) per month, and also with schooling needs.
“One bright spot is that they children seem to be very well treated at school by children and teachers alike, they have not had to protect their identity and have faced no bullying, in fact they are progressing well. When our officer Mehwish visited them most recently, she was warmly welcomed, but as the children grow older, they are asking questions about the murder of their parents,” Chowdhry said
According to BPCA, one of the girls often wakes crying out for her ‘Mama’ and the oldest is starting to ask questions about who killed their parents, and are they still out there, and will they come back to kill them, particularly after reporters come and ask questions.
“These are still deeply traumatized children, with impoverished family members trying to help and protect them. They are trying to hide the reality, which is that although some fraction of the mob has been arrested, and a smaller fraction charged, on previous performance it is highly likely that they will go free and not be jailed, and similarly previous experience would suggest that that the three imams who incited the murder, Mohammad Hussain, Arshad Baloch and Noorul Hassan, will be exonerated,” said Chowdhry.
BPCA explained that of the 620 people implicated in the original police report after the murder of Shama and Shahzad, only 126 culprits have been arrested, a further 32 are being examined, and the rest of the mob are fugitives. Bail has been cancelled for all the culprits who await sentencing, but the maternal grandfather Mukhtar Masih, has reported that he has intermittently received threats from family and friends of those arrested promising violence unless the case is withdrawn.
Masih said: “We receive continuous threats to withdraw the case by the perpetrators’ families from nearby towns – they come to the house and make threats. I will not give up justice for my daughter Shama and her husband Shahzad, they were innocent and the guilty must be punished. No father should see his daughter die before him, and the brutality that my daughter went through, brings me to tears every time I think of it. None of the culprits have ever shown any remorse and this hurts the most; my daughter’s life meant nothing to them.”
BPCA went on the state that in the meantime a custody battle ensues over one of the children which is causing great turmoil for the grandfather and the children, now uncertain of their future. The family held a private memorial to remember the young couple killed in their prime before they could see their children grow, leaving behind four orphans.
BPCA Officer Naveed Aziz is one of the few non-family members invited and spoke at the event. BPCA said it will share details in a later post. Please pray for the family, for solace and peace, and for the long awaited justice to come to fruition.
Chowdhry continued: “This tragic event has often been described as Pakistan’s most brutal killing , the murder shocked the world and ostensibly the authorities in Pakistan. Yet to date, the perpetrators have not been brought to justice. Four young children have been mentally and emotionally scarred for life and nothing can bring back their parents. If Pakistan wants to retrieve any form of reputation in the international arena they must ensure that lessons are learned from the murder of this innocent young couple, and that the rule of law and not mob rule permeates throughout Pakistan in future.”
He added: “Charities such as ours have been left to protect and care for this family, taking on a state role. The promised compensation for the children are not so grand sums that have been left in trust until they reach adulthood, which does not help with their immediate concerns. This is another failing of the Pakistani Government, which needs to review how they respond to victims of the polarized society that pervades in the country. The pittance received by the Maternal Grandfather Mukhtar Masih, who is guardian for the children, is shameful and an indication of the low worth set upon the lives of Christians in Pakistan.”
BPCA stated the family need prayers for protection, and there are additional needs for the children, such as basic furniture – three wooden beds, study tables and chairs, plus a wardrobe, which together will cost a little over £460GNP ($700USD). If funds permit, BPCA also hopes to paint the family’s house, which is very spartan in design.
Chowdhry concluded: “We at BPCA would like to offer a chance for people to help by funding these needs, as well as helping with ongoing school and grocery costs, since support from government sources has greatly reduced and now equates to 20,000 rupees per month (£123GBP; $188USD). Moreover we have been providing a full time nanny service to ensure that children receive appropriate physical and spiritual growth, and as such her duties include preparing them for school, checking school bags are correctly filled, lunch is made, and uniforms are prepared correctly, dropping off and collecting the children from school. She is responsible for other normal household chores and, in addition provides teaching of the scriptures, group prayers and counsel where required, ensuring the children receive a semblance of maternal care.
“Unfortunately the initial generosity for this family has dried up and we urge new donors to come and fill the gap, so we can continue this current provision and further services to this family.”
You may contact BPCA at email@example.com
Photo captions: 1) The father of Shama, and the children L-R: Sonia, Poonam and Suleman pray with BPCA officer Mehwish Bhatti (BPCA photo). 2) Relatives of a Christian couple who were burnt alive for alleged blasphemy cry at their house in Kot Radha Kishan, near Kasur, Pakistan. 3) Pakistani minority Christians and civil society hold placards as they chant slogans protesting the murder of a Christian couple, in Karachi on November 6, 2014 -(Photo AFP). 4) Michael Ireland.
About the writer: Michael Ireland is a Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as a volunteer Internet Journalist and Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and ASSIST News Service since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Click http://paper.li/Michael_ASSIST/1410485204 to see a daily digest of Michael’s stories for ANS.
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