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Pakistan

Family of slain Christians in Pakistan fear for safety

After mob killing, relatives say pressure has mounted to drop the case

ucanews.com reporter, Lahore

ucanews.com reporter, Lahore

Published: November 19, 2014 04:45 AM GMT

Updated: November 18, 2014 04:45 PM GMT

Family of slain Christians in Pakistan fear for safety

Pakistani civil activists light candles during a protest vigil against the murder of a Christian couple, in Karachi on November 7 (AFP Photo/Asif Hassan)

Relatives of a Christian couple that were lynched to death over allegations of blasphemy in Pakistan’s Punjab province earlier this month have called for government protection, saying they are being pressured to drop their case against the alleged killers.

Shehzad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi, bonded laborers, were attacked by a mob of 1,500 villagers and then thrown into a lit kiln after announcements were made over a mosque loudspeaker saying the couple had committed blasphemy by burning and throwing out pages of the Qur'an.

Police rounded up 43 suspects after the November 4 attack in Kasur district, including the brick kiln owner and mosque prayer leader. Four suspects were remanded in police custody, which is set to run out today.

“We are receiving threats on phone to take back our case,” Shahbaz Masih, the brother of Shehzad Masih, told a press conference in Islamabad on Monday. “We have been offered money and land as compensation in return for withdrawal of the case against the accused,” he said.

“We have informed the district police officer of Kasur about the threats,” he said.

Masih appealed to the Supreme Court to take up the case independently and order an impartial inquiry.

“We only want justice through fair investigations,” he said, adding that a judicial commission and joint investigation team should be formed to carry out the probe.

Shahbaz and his wife Parveen Bibi said that members of religious minorities should be included in the commission.

The Pakistan Interfaith League (PIL), a group of clerics and rights activists promoting religious co-existence, urged harsh punishments for those involved to dissuade others from misusing religion as an excuse to settle personal feuds in the future.

“Had the perpetrators of Gojra and Joseph Colony riots case been punished, no one would have dared to burn the Christian couple now,” said PIL chairman Sajid Ishaq, referring to riots against Christians in 2009 and 2013 that saw more than a dozen killed in mob attacks.

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“PIL urges the government to ensure the security of this terrified family and shift them to a safer place,” he added.

In a separate case, police said Tuesday they had arrested a Christian man in Lahore last week over blasphemy allegations.

Thirty-eight year old Qaiser Ayub, a computer science teacher, was sent to jail by court order on Monday in Talagang in Chakwal district, where he was declared an absconder in a case dating back to 2011.

“Ayub has been charged with uploading sacrilegious posts on his Facebook page against the Prophet Muhammad,” a police officer at Talagang Police Station told ucanews.com.

The charge carries either the death sentence or life imprisonment.

Sardar Mushtaq Gill, Director of Christian advocacy group Legal Evangelical Association Development, said that Ayub had been on the run for three and a half years.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject in Muslim-majority Pakistan, and even unproven allegations often trigger mob violence.

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