Church leaders condemn latest blasphemy killing in Pakistan

The Muslim country’s blasphemy laws are behind a slew of atrocities, according to officials and rights groups
Church leaders condemn latest blasphemy killing in Pakistan

Pakistani Muslim leaders protest and denounce a Hindu youth suspected of burning pages from the Quran in Ghotki, Sindh province. (Photo by Imran Asif) 

Church officials have strongly condemned the mob killing of a Hindu man in Pakistan's Sindh province, saying that the country’s blasphemy laws are behind a slew of atrocities in the Muslim-majority country.

Satesh Kumar, a local Hindu trader, and his friend, Avinash were shot July 28 in Ghotki town a day after another local Hindu, Amar Laal was arrested after being accused of burning pages of the Muslim holy book the Quran.

Kumar died at the scene while Avinash was rushed to a hospital in neighboring Rahim Yar Khan District.

Hundreds of baton-wielding Muslim men, children and activists marched in the town and called for the strict punishment of the blasphemy suspects. Police were deployed to disperse the angry mob.

Bishop Samson Shukardin of Hyderabad strongly condemned the mob violence and the killing of the Hindu. "Such incidents have become routine now," said the bishop. "This is bad for the country. The vulnerable Hindu minority needs protection and it is the responsibility of the government to stop bloodshed in the wake of blasphemy allegations. We demand a complete investigation."

This is not the first incident of this kind in the predominantly Muslim country, where blasphemy-related mob violence against religious minorities has become a regular occurrence. Mere allegations of blasphemy are enough to spark violence.

Feroz Shah, a senior police officer, told media that Hindu trader, Kumar was shot dead by unknown gunmen. "We have decided to set up a peace committee to meet with representatives from Muslim and Hindu [communities] and restore calm to the city." 

"We have also imposed Section 144, which bars assembly of more than four people and the display of weapons," he said. "A case was also registered against unknown persons for killing the Hindu trader."

 

Hundreds of Muslims protest in Ghotki against a Hindu man suspected of burning pages of the Quran. (Photo by Imran Asif) 

 

Father Abid Habib former president of the Major Superiors Leadership Conference of Pakistan blames the blasphemy law for turning people into religious fanatics.

"Many innocent people have been killed and alleged blasphemers are rotting in jail," he said. "The few that were declared innocent by the courts have had to flee to avoid the religious terrorists. I strongly feel that the police, courts and government institutions favor the Muslim party."

"Those called to form mobs and attack the religious minority have no idea what they are doing,” he said. They think they are serving their religion but peace will only come after all the Islamic laws are repealed."

The ruling party chief also called for the protection of minority communities.

"Chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has taken notice of the killing of a Hindu boy, Satesh Kumar at the hands of armed terrorists in Ghotki and asked Sindh government to take immediate action against the culprits," a statement by the party's media wing said.

The party chairman also instructed Member of the National Assembly, Ramesh Lal to visit the victim’s family and offer condolences and solidarity. He added that anti-social elements fanning hatred and violence should be stopped and punished.

Rights defenders say that blasphemy laws are often used to settle personal scores or victimize minorities. 

In November 2014, a Christian couple were lynched by a mob for burning pages of the Quran , a charge which was dismissed by a rights group as false; in May 2013, over 200 Christian homes were torched over allegations of blasphemy; and in August 2009, eight Christians, three woman and a child, were burned alive in Punjab's Gojra town.

The Catholic Church has long been campaigning for equal rights of religious minorities and highlighting the injustices they are subjected to because of blasphemy laws.

Blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad carries a mandatory death sentence in Pakistan and blasphemy against the Quran is punishable with life imprisonment.

Church leaders have long charged that the laws are abused for personal gain and that religious extremists are furthering their agenda by abusing blasphemy laws.

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