Pakistani police arrested 43 people in connection to the killing of a Christian couple on Tuesday. Their murder highlights the continued violence against minorities in Pakistan and the extrajudicial implementation of the country’s strict anti-blasphemy laws.
The two victims, Shahzad Masih and Shama Masih, had a running financial dispute with their employer, Yousaf Gujjar. Local news accounts suggest that when they refused to pay Gujjar, he accused the couple of blasphemy, saying they burned pages of the Quran. Clerics helped incite the violence, urging people gather and confront the two Christians. A crowd congregated outside of the couple’s home, knocking down the family’s door. The mob then tortured Shahzad and Shama before setting their bodies on fire in a nearby kiln.
Activists protest against violence towards Christians in Pakistan. (Photo: Getty)
Senior police officials and government ministers have now arrived in the Punjab town of Kot Radha Kishan to investigate the killings. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif criticized the murders as an “unacceptable crime” while approximately 200 demonstrators from Christian communities and human rights organizations protested in nearby Lahore.
According to the Wall Street Journal, it is not uncommon in Pakistan for anti-blasphemy laws to be used to settle personal scores against Muslims and non-Muslims alike. “Pakistan has never executed anyone convicted of blasphemy, but the mere allegations of blasphemy often incite mob violence and deadly vigilante attacks,” said the WSJ. Earlier this year, three members of the Ahmadiyya religious group were killed by an angry crowd over an allegedly blasphemous image posted to Facebook. Other religious minorities in Pakistan, including Christians, Sufis, and Shiites, are often targeted through bombings and shootings.