LAHORE, Pakistan, September 12, 2023 (Morning Star News) – The three young children of a Christian couple jailed on baseless charges of desecrating the Koran in Lahore, Pakistan last week have no relatives to care for them and are extremely upset, a rights advocate said.
Shaukat Masih, 33, and his 28-year-old wife Kiran have been in judicial custody since Saturday (Sept. 9) after Muslims in the Dogaij Chowki area of Harbanspura, Lahore accused them of desecrating the Koran when pages of the Muslim scripture fell from their rooftop – even though neither of them were home at the time, said Nasir Jameel of advocacy group the Living Water Society.
The children, ages 13, 9 and 7, are now living with another Christian family, he said.
“I tried hard to persuade Kiran’s brother to take custody of the three children from the police, but he flatly refused,” Jameel told Morning Star News. “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 personal bond.”
The 13-year-old suffers from rickets, and the 9-year-old is mentally challenged, he said.
“The children are extremely upset due to their parents’ absence, and one can only hope and pray for their early release,” Jameel said.
A lawyer is expected to file a petition for Masih and his wife’s release on bail on Thursday (Sept. 14), he said.
Masih, a sanitation worker, and his wife, who works as a domestic helper in various homes, also serve as caretakers of the house of a Pakistani living abroad and live in a room on its roof, Jameel said.
On Friday (Sept. 8), area resident Muhammad Taimoor alleged that he was standing at a food shop near the house when he saw some pages being thrown from its roof. He picked up the pages and found they were from the Koran, according to a First Information Report (FIR) he filed with police.
Taimoor knocked on the door of the house, and Kiran allegedly opened it, a claim she denies. The Muslim complainant said that he asked who had thrown the holy pages from the roof, to which Kiran responded that her minor daughters and son might have done so, according to the FIR.
Taimoor insisted on checking the house himself, which Kiran allowed, according to the FIR. On the rooftop Taimoor found a pink bag that contained pages of the Koran, and he called police, who came and took the couple into custody and charged them with desecrating the Koran under Section 295-B of Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes, punishable by a mandatory life sentence.
Jameel said the allegation was baseless as the couple was not present in the house at the time.
“Masih was out for work, while Kiran was working in a neighboring house,” he said. “When Kiran heard a commotion in the street, she came out and saw five or six men standing outside her home. When she inquired about the reason, the men told her about the torn Koranic pages.”
She told them that her young children could have unintentionally gotten hold of a bag that contained wastepaper, Jameel said. According to Kiran, she had received the bag from one of her Muslim employers to sell to a scrap vendor and hadn’t yet found a chance to do so, he said.
Kiran had no idea that the plastic bag contained pages of the Koran, she told Jameel as he visited her at the Kot Lakhpat Jail on Monday (Sept. 11).
As soon as the Muslims at the house heard that her children might have gotten hold of the bag, they pushed her aside and forced their way in, Jameel said. The men went to the rooftop and found the children playing with the bag. A Muslim couple, friends of the Masih family, were also resting in the couple’s room.
“Without giving the couple a chance to explain, the men attacked them, injuring the male guest named Waseem,” Jameel said.
Masih returned home to find strangers gathered outside the family’s quarters.
“Though the couple pleaded their innocence and sought forgiveness on behalf of their minor children, Taimoor called the police, who came and took the entire Masih family and their two guests into custody,” Jameel said.
The religious rights advocate said the Muslim couple was freed after a few hours, and he secured the release of the children. Jameel said he hopes the court will grant bail for their parents on compassionate grounds, keeping in view 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.
An officer at the North Cantt police station told Morning Star News on condition of anonymity that police had arrested the couple to prevent violent protests by Muslims.
“It’s true that the police had to book the poor couple under pressure,” he said.
Supreme Court Order
In a related development, the Supreme Court on Friday (Sept. 8) ordered the Sargodha deputy commissioner to submit a copy of an alleged agreement he had signed with hard-line Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) to monitor blasphemy in Christian settlements.
The order was issued by a three-judge bench headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsan as it heard an application urging the top court to take notice of rioting in Jaranwala on Aug. 16 that destroyed church buildings and Christians and homes and businesses after a Muslim framed two Christians in a false blasphemy case.
Minority rights activist Samuel 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, reminiscent of Gestapo patrols and Nazi collaborators in World War II-era Germany.
The agreement was allegedly signed in the wake of the Jaranwala riots, where nearly two dozen churches were ransacked and torched while houses and businesses of Christians were damaged and looted.
Pyara said he requested the bench to seek a report from the Punjab Province government regarding compensation paid to victims’ families and those whose houses were looted and plundered.
“We also told the court that Christians in Jaranwala were feeling insecure and harassed as police had arrested 38 community members on various pretexts,” Pyara told Morning Star News. “Though the Lahore High Court has discharged cases of 36 Christians, the community in Jaranwala continues to remain fearful of police intimidation.”
The bench has directed Punjab police to stop harassing 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 on a 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,” he said. “The court has directed the Punjab Law Department to submit a report on the matter.”
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 added.
Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from eighth the previous year.
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