Bishops, others say imams bear share of blame for blasphemy law killings.
The Catholic bishops of Pakistan are appealing to the government to take stronger measures to prevent the abuse of the so-called "blasphemy laws" that impose harsh penalties for insulting Islam.
Part of their recommendation is to rein in Muslim religious leaders who stir up emotional mobs, such as the one that threw a young Christian couple into a brick kiln for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad, burning them alive.
Together with the Association of Major Superiors, the bishops conference stated in a letter to government officials that the Nov. 4 killing shows that "intolerance in the name of religion has gone far beyond the rule of law."
Church officials are asking government officials to quickly facilitate an independent inquiry into the events; to consider the Islamic clerics who instigated the violence responsible; to take action to stop the abuse of the blasphemy laws; to prevent such incidents by training the police, and to implement recommendations made last June by the chief judge of the Supreme Court for the protection of religious minorities.
Twenty-eight-year-old Shahzad Masih, who worked at the kiln, was tortured and burned along with his 24-year-old pregnant wife, Shama Bibi, mother of their three children, by a mob of over 1000 people. The brutal killings came after mosques in nearby villages blared out allegations of blasphemy over their loudspeakers.
The bishops are not alone in calling attention to Islamic leaders for their role. In a Nov. 18 statement, the Society for Secular Pakistan said the killings were “incited by the clerics of three mosques of the villages in Kasur.”
“We demand that these clerics should be arrested and punished for inciting people’s religious feeling to kill the kiln worker who had reportedly some dispute with the kiln owner,” pointed out the outspoken group.
Six brothers of the Masih family, including youngest Shahzad, had been working in a brick kiln, as bonded laborers, in the village Chak 59 in the district of Kasur in Punjab province for 17 years.
“Unfortunately this is not the first time that the sacred place of worship was used to incite and entice people to kill with impunity,” the Society for Secular Pakistan continued. "There have been instances when some fanatics had announced hefty head money for killing so-called blasphemers and the state did not take any action, although it’s a crime."
The society urged the government “to register all mosques and the religious leaders to keep a close check that nobody makes hate speeches from the pulpits. They should be free to preach their faith but not hatred.” The statement also pointed out that “at present there is no check of the state on over 250,000 mosques and 20,000 madrassahs (Islamic schools) in the country.”
Another problem with the blasphemy laws, which have been on the books for 30 years, often is the impunity enjoyed by those who take the law into their own hands, Dominican Father James Channan, director of the Peace Centre in Lahore, told Aleteia Nov. 18.
“In the name of blasphemy, they have killed many, burnt churches and houses. But sadly, nobody has been punished for these crimes. So they feel they can do whatever and get away,” said Father Channan, who also heads the Pakistan chapter of the international United Religions Initiative.
Asked what was the impact of harsh words from Prime Minister Nawas Sharif, who condemned the killing of the Christian couple as "an unacceptable crime" and declared that "a responsible state cannot tolerate mob rule and public lynching with impunity," Father Channan regretted that “the condemnation should translate into action. Otherwise, it has no meaning.”