The recent killing of a Christian couple by an angry mob in Pakistan has prompted condemnation from the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit.
The victims, Shama Bibi and Shehzad Masih, had been accused by community members of desecrating the Qur’an. They lost their lives in the incident on 4 November in the town of Kot Radha Kishan in Punjab province.
“The protection and security of all citizens regardless of their religious affiliation is a core responsibility of the government of Pakistan, as is putting an end to human rights violations and extra-judicial killings,” said the WCC general secretary.
“To promote tolerance, religious harmony and protection of rights of Christians as well as other religious minorities in Pakistan, it is important to ensure justice,” Tveit said.
“This incident appears to be yet another tragic example of how the social environment created by Pakistan’s blasphemy laws allows personal disputes and vendettas to be pursued under religious pretexts, encouraging mob violence,” elaborated Peter Prove, director of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. Media reports have suggested that the origins of this incident lay in a financial dispute between the couple and their employer, a local brick kiln owner.
Bishop Samuel Azariah, a WCC Executive Committee member and the moderator of the Church of Pakistan, stressed that at the very least clear definitions and control over how the blasphemy law is used should be established. “It is the responsibility of the state to give a proper definition of blasphemy, and to control the application of the law,” said Azariah.
“The law must not be allowed to be an incitement to communal violence and oppression.”
“Numerous incidents of misuse of the blasphemy law have taken place over the years, but there has been no proper investigation and no culprits have been punished,” Azariah added.
James Rehmat, executive director of the Ecumenical Commission for Human Development in Pakistan, called the incident “barbaric and inhumane”, asking the global community to condemn this incident which shows the increased danger for religious minorities in Pakistan.
Rehmat demanded that the provincial government apprehend the persons accused of murdering the Christian couple, and pay compensation to their families. He also demanded “protection of the Christian community, providing true justice”.
Recalling the ongoing case of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman condemned to death under the blasphemy law, Peter Prove remarked that “many other people continue to be at risk of victimization and misuse of the blasphemy law, purely on the basis of their religious affiliation and minority status. We hope that reaction to this tragic incident will provoke a serious re-examination of this matter by the Pakistani authorities.”
Over a number of years the WCC – along with its member churches in Pakistan – has expressed serious concern about Pakistan’s blasphemy law, and has called for its repeal or amendment. In 2009, the Central Committee, a chief governing body of the WCC, issued a statement on the misuse of the blasphemy law and the security of religious minorities in Pakistan. The statement calls upon the “government of Pakistan to guarantee the rights of all religious minorities in the country”.