50 villagers held over burning of Christian couple to death

Published November 6, 2014
RELATIVES and friends mourn the death of the Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan on Wednesday.—AFP
RELATIVES and friends mourn the death of the Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan on Wednesday.—AFP

KASUR: Police arrested on Wednesday 50 villagers who were part of a mob which reportedly burnt alive a Christian couple in a brick kiln in Kot Radha Kishan for allegedly desecrating pages of the Holy Quran. The woman, mother of three, was pregnant.

Kasur District Police Officer Jawad Qamar confirmed the arrests and said a local religious leader had fanned the issue. But the DPO did not disclose his name.

 Relatives lay flowers at the site of the murder of the Christian couple at a brick kiln in Kot Radha Kishan, some 60 kilometres (40 miles) southwest of Lahore on November 5 - AFP
Relatives lay flowers at the site of the murder of the Christian couple at a brick kiln in Kot Radha Kishan, some 60 kilometres (40 miles) southwest of Lahore on November 5 - AFP

Police and witnesses told Dawn that announcements had been made from mosques on Tuesday asking villagers to gather at the Yousaf brick kiln where 25-year-old Shama and her husband Shahzad Masih worked as bonded labourers.

Over 1,000 charged people from three villages took out the couple from a room (where they had taken shelter) after tearing apart its roof. The mob tortured the couple before putting them into the kiln’s furnace.

 A man shows the media the room of the murdered Christian couple - AFP
A man shows the media the room of the murdered Christian couple - AFP

The mob held hostage five policemen who tried to rescue the couple. The villagers also manhandled some media personnel and snatched their cameras.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif took notice of the incident and the latter constituted a three-member committee comprising the secretary of minority affairs, chairman of CM’s inspection team and additional IG to investigate the matter.

 Police stand guard as members of a committee investigate the killing - AFP
Police stand guard as members of a committee investigate the killing - AFP

On instructions of the chief minister, Kasur police enhanced security of the Christian community in the village and in Klarkabad, mostly inhabited by Christians about 3km from Chak 59, the place of the incident.

Police registered a case against 660 villagers, including 60 who have been nominated in the FIR. Police also blocked all routes leading to Chak 59 and Klarkabad.

There are about 12 houses of the Christian community in Chak 59 and all the residents had left the village when this correspondent reached there on Wednesday. The local Muslim population also left the villages because police were raiding their houses.

 Christians gather and pray for the murdered Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan - AFP
Christians gather and pray for the murdered Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan - AFP

The village wore a deserted look and its only market comprising some makeshift shops was closed. Police were deployed at various corners of the village.

According to the FIR lodged on the complaint of Sub-Inspector Mohammad Ali of Chowki Factory Area, police received information that villagers were torturing a Christian woman and her husband. A police team comprising five personnel reached the place but about 600 charged villagers had besieged a room where Shama and Shahzad Masih had taken shelter for fear of the mob. Some villagers tore apart the roof of the room and forcibly took the couple out.

They thrashed the couple before dragging them to the kiln where 18 accused, including the kiln owner Mohammad Yousaf Gujar and his accountants Shakeel and Afzal, allegedly removed a lid from one of the openings of the furnace and threw the couple into it.

“Both Shama and Shahzad were reduced to ashes in no time,” the FIR said.

It said that 60 accused nominated in the FIR, including the kiln owner and his staff, had incited the villagers to violence by managing announcements through loudspeakers of the mosques in Chak 59, Chak 60, Chak Rossa and Chak Bhail. The accused burnt the Christian couple alive, beat up police officials and fanned a mass hysteria.

The Kot Radha Kishan police station registered the case under sections 302, 436, 201, 148, 149, 353 and 186 of the PPC and 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

On Wednesday, police produced 43 of the arrested people before an anti-terrorism court which remanded four of them in police custody and sent 39 others to jail on judicial remand.

Bilqees, a local Muslim resident, told Dawn that Shama, known in the village as Saima, married Shahzad Masih about eight years ago. They had three children aged between two and seven.

She said Shama was pregnant at the time of the incident. Nazir Masih, father-in-law of Shama, was a faith healer and died a few weeks ago. After his death, Shama had burnt some of his belongings, including papers.

This undated family handout photo received on November 5 shows the Christian couple who were killed by a Muslim mob in Kot Radha Kishan - AFP
This undated family handout photo received on November 5 shows the Christian couple who were killed by a Muslim mob in Kot Radha Kishan - AFP

Answering a question, she said Shama was illiterate.

Bilqees said a vendor who had visited the brick kiln found the pages of the Holy Quran and showed them to the villagers. Later on Tuesday morning, hundreds of villagers gathered at the kiln and burnt the couple alive without even listening to Shama.

“She was screaming that she was unaware of what the papers were about, but no-one listened to her,” Bilqees said.

Abdul Shakoor, a male member of the Bilqees family, said the mob’s behaviour could not be justified and the treatment meted out to the young couple was inhuman and brutal.

General Secretary of the All Pakistan Brick Kiln Association, Mehar Abdul Haq, told Dawn that the kiln owner had been nominated in case, although he was not present at the time of the incident. He demanded a fair inquiry into the matter.

 Members of the Christian community hold placards and wooden crosses during a demonstration to condemn the death of the Christian couple - AFP
Members of the Christian community hold placards and wooden crosses during a demonstration to condemn the death of the Christian couple - AFP

Meanwhile, members of the Christian community held protest demonstrations in Kot Radha Kishan on Wednesday.

Published in Dawn, November 6th , 2014

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