A Christian couple was arrested and charged with blasphemy in Lahore last week for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran, increasing fear in the minority community already reeling from last month’s attacks on multiple churches and homes of Christians in Jaranwala, sources said.
“Shaukat Masih and his wife Kiran are in judicial custody since Saturday after local Muslims accused them of desecrating the Quranic pages in the Dogaij Chowki area of Harbanspura,” said social activist Nasir Jameel.
Jameel, who heads the Lahore-based Living Water Society, said that Masih, 33, and his wife Kiran, 28, were residing in a house owned by an overseas Pakistani. The poor couple has three minor children, he added.
“Masih is a sanitation worker while his wife works as a domestic help in people’s homes. They also serve as caretakers of the house and live in a room on the roof of the building,” he told Kross Konnection.
The couple was accused of blasphemy after a local named Muhammad Taimoor alleged that he was standing at a food shop on a street near the Rangers headquarters when he saw some pages being thrown from the roof of a nearby house. He picked up the pages, which were found to be from the Quran.
According to the FIR [First Information Report], Taimoor claimed that he knocked on the door of the house which was allegedly opened by Kiran. The complainant said that he inquired as to who had thrown the holy pages to which Kiran responded that her minor daughters and son might have thrown them.
The FIR stated that Taimoor insisted on checking the house himself which was allowed by the Christian woman. It added that when Taimoor went to the rooftop he found a pink-coloured bag near the water tank that contained more pages of the Quran.
The complainant then called the police who came and took the couple into custody and charged them under Section 295-B of the blasphemy statutes. The section relates to the defiling of the Quran and is punishable by a mandatory life sentence.
‘ACCUSED COUPLE IS INNOCENT’
However, Jameel rejected the contents of the FIR, saying the allegation was baseless as the couple was not present in the house at the time of the alleged incident.
“Masih was out for work while Kiran was at a neighbour’s house doing her daily chores. When she heard a commotion in the street, she stepped out and saw 5-6 men standing outside her home. When she inquired the reason, the men told her about the torn pages of the Quran.
“Kiran told them that her minor children could have unintentionally got hold of a bag that contained waste paper. According to Kiran, the bag was given to her by one of her Muslim employers to sell to a scrap vendor but she hadn’t found the chance to do so,” said Jameel.
Kiran says she had no idea about the presence of holy pages in the plastic bag, he quoted the woman as saying during a meeting at the Kot Lakhpat Jail on Monday.
According to Kiran, the men pushed her aside and forced their way into the house.
“The men went to the rooftop and found the children playing with the bag. A Muslim couple, friends of the Masih family, were resting in the couple’s room. Without giving the couple a chance to explain, the men attacked them injuring the male guest named Waseem. In the meanwhile, Masih also returned home and was confronted by the assailants.
“Though the couple pleaded their innocence and sought forgiveness on behalf of their minor children, Taimoor called the police who came and took the Masih family and their two guests into custody,” said Jameel.
The activist said that the Muslim couple was released after a few hours while he took custody of the children.
“I tried hard to persuade Kiran’s brother to take the custody of the three children from the police but he flatly refused. He said he had cut off relations with his sister over a family issue and would not take her children’s responsibility. I was left with no other option but to rescue the children on my own,” he added.
Jameel said the three children – Sagar, 13, Sundas, 9, and Ruby, 7 – were extremely upset due to their parents’ absence.
“Sagar is suffering from rickets while Sundas is mentally retarded. One can only hope and pray for the early release of their parents. We have arranged a lawyer who will file a bail petition for Masih and his wife on Tuesday.
“We hope that the court will admit their application on compassionate grounds and keeping in view the fact that there was no ill intention on their part. Moreover, the couple was not even present when the incident took place so accusing them of the crime makes no sense,” he said.
A police official at the North Cantt Police Station told Kross Konnection that police had arrested the couple to prevent violent protests by religious activists.
“The police booked the poor couple under pressure. When we went to the police station to get the children’s custody, an officer said they were relieved that someone had come to inquire after the family,” Jameel said.
SC ‘SHOCKED’ OVER BLASPHEMY MONITORING
Also on Friday, the Supreme Court summoned the Sargodha deputy commissioner, directing him to submit a copy of an alleged agreement he had signed with the hard-line religious party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), to outsource blasphemy monitoring in Christian settlements.
The directions were given by a three-judge bench headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsan as it heard an application urging the top court to take notice of the Jaranwala incident.
Minority rights activist Samuel Pyara had applied in a case of implementing decisions of the top court taken in a suo moto notice on minorities’ rights.
Pyara informed the court that the Sargodha administration chief had entered into an agreement with the TLP under which committees would be formed to patrol Christian areas and monitor and check blasphemy issues.
The agreement was allegedly signed in the wake of the Jaranwala incident where nearly two dozen churches were ransacked and torched while houses and businesses of Christians were looted after damaging their properties.
Pyara said that he requested the bench to seek a report from the Punjab government regarding the compensation paid to the victim families.
“We also told the court that Christians in Jaranwala were feeling insecure and harassed as police was arresting community members on various pretexts. Though the Lahore High Court has discharged cases against 36 Christians, the community in Jaranwala continues to remain fearful of police intimidation.
“The bench has directed the Punjab police to stop harassing the Christians and submit the report of the joint investigation teams probing the Jaranwala incident,” he said.
Pyara said the court had also ordered the Punjab government and the inspector general of police to submit a report regarding the security plan for protecting the Christian community.
“The Punjab government devised a plan to keep the Christian community safe, but it has yet to be implemented. The court has directed the Punjab Law Department to submit a report on the matter,” he added.
Moreover, the Supreme Court has also directed the Federal Interior Ministry to submit a report on what action it has taken in cases of hate speech against Christians on social media, he said.