This week Jubilee Campaign is highlighting cases of religious persecution and discrimination in Pakistan in light of World Day of Social Justice on February 20th.
The Brick Kiln Couple
On November 4, 2014, a young Christian couple was brutally murdered by a Muslim mob. Shahzad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi, commonly referred to as the Brick Kiln Couple, were burned alive after being accused of blasphemy.
The couple from Kot Radhakishan village, Punjab province, were accused of desecrating the Quran. The accusations surfaced during the week before the attack following the death of Shahzad’s father. Shama went through her deceased father-in-law’s belongings and decided to dispose of some things. The discarded items were picked up by a garbage collector the next day, who alleged that he collected pages from the Quran.
All of the family members are bonded servants to a Muslim man who owned the brick kiln. The owner claimed that the couple had owned him money. Speculation emerged that the owner was involved in the murder after the owner wouldn’t allow the couple to flee from the village when they started receiving threats.
Clerics from local mosques announced the blasphemy accusation over loudspeakers, which prompted a mob of 600 local Muslims to storm the village. Some reports state that the mob was much larger, with some estimates as high as 1,500 Muslims. Despite the couples begging for mercy and stating they had not committed a crime, the mob started beating them with sticks.
It is reported that the couple’s legs were broken so that they were not able to flee, and they were dragged to the brick kiln furnace. When Shama’s clothes didn’t immediately ignite, the mob wrapped her in cotton to ensure she would burn. The bodies were charred beyond recognition, leaving their family with only fragments of bones to bury.
Brick kilns are considered a modern-day form of slavery. According to Punjab’s Labor Department, there are more than 6,000 brick kilns in the province where Shahzad and Shama were killed. Working conditions are often harsh and living conditions are unhygienic. Many children are also forced to work in the brick kilns and denied education. Kiln workers are given their pay in advance, then told they cannot leave until the debt it paid. However, brick kiln owners are notorious for increasing the amount of loan, prolonging the stay of the bonded worker. According to a report conducted by Human Rights Watch, a high proportion of bonded brick kiln workers in Pakistan are Christian.
In November of 2016, 5 Muslims were sentenced to death for the murder of Shahbaz and Shama. An additional 8 were also charged in the attack and sentenced to two years in prison.
Efforts have been made in the U.S. to urge Pakistan to repeal their blasphemy laws. In June 2015, Congressman Joe Pitts and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee introduced H.Res. 290 “Calling for the global repeal of blasphemy laws.” The resolution calls on the President and State Department to make repealing blasphemy laws a priority topic when dealing with countries with such laws. It also urges for Pakistan to be designated as a Country of Particular Concern by the State Department. To learn more about the resolution, click here.
In honor of World Day of Social Justice, and on behalf of Talib Masih and all the other victims of blasphemy, we urge you to contact your Representative and ask them to support H.Res. 290. Unsure who your representative is? Find out here!
We will also be sending a petition to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on World Day of Social Justice asking him to designate Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern. Please sign the petition and spread the word!