Protesters demand justice for burnt couple; end to persecution
LAHORE: Protests against the brutal killing of Christian couple in Kasur District the other day continued in city on the second consecutive day on Thursday as thousands held demonstrations outside the Lahore Press Club. The Pakistan Brick Kiln Workers Union has announced a three-day strike in mourning for the couple.
A number of non-government organisations (NGOs), civil society and religious organisations, kiln workers and trade union activists participated in the protests. Carrying banners and posters, the participants chanted slogans for ensuring protection of religious minorities. Activists and members of Civil Society Network Pakistan (CSNP), South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK), Centre for Human Rights Education (CHRE), Anti-Torture Alliance Pakistan (ATAP), Massiha Millat Party (MMP), Human Liberation Commission Pakistan (HLCP), All Pakistan Trade Union Federation (APTUF), Pakistan Brick-Kiln Workers Federation (PBKWF), Pakistan Kissan Committee (PKC), Pakistan Workers Confederation (PWC) and Awami Workers Party (AWP) were present on occasion.
Earlier, PBKWF officials held a press conference where General Secretary Mehmood Butt said that kiln owners were misusing religious laws to threaten workers from religious minorities, who demand their salaries and arrears. He said that the same happened in Shahzad and Shama’s case in which owner Yousuf Gujjar had to pay Rs 250,000 to the couple for the last 12 years but when they demanded this amount, they had a scuffle with Yousuf and he tortured them. Two days after this incident, Butt went on to describe, a man told local cleric that he had seen burnt papers of the Holy Quran at Shahzad’s house which resulted in the gruesome occurrence. He further said that mob headed by local cleric tortured Shahzad and Shama and burnt them alive.
Butt also believed that no burning of the Holy Quran had occurred but that local clerics and kiln owner had spread propaganda. He also demanded of the government to get the incident probed into and the culprits arrested forthwith.
PWC Chairman Yousuf Baloch said that in October, district administration of Kasur announced a crackdown on kiln owners who forced people to work but did not pay them their salaries. In this regard, he said, 228 kiln owners were fined and Rs 3,55000 were recovered for issuance of social security cards. He said that in the wake of the crackdown, the owners started taking revenge from workers and stopped giving them their wages. He demanded of government to take strict action against kiln owners who were not paying the workers their salaries.
While addressing the protest, officials of NGOs and civil society organisations urged the government to bring the culprits to justice to prevent persecution of religious minorities; to take practical measures to stop the misuse of blasphemy laws for personal grudge; to take concrete steps to bring an end to provocation through loudspeakers; and to seize the hate literature for ensuring religious tolerance in Pakistan.
APTUF member Bashir Ashraf said: “The state and the government of Pakistan have failed to establish culture of peace and justice and to protect minority groups, as they are being targeted frequently in the name of religion through the misuse of blasphemy laws for vested interests.”
He added that the inability of the police to rescue the couple despite reaching the site was a stark evidence of the state’s vanishing writ. He demanded that the individuals, who instigated violence against the victims, and those, who prevented their rescue, be brought to justice.
MMP Founder Aslam Pervaiz Sahotra demanded registration of a case against the culprits for illegal detention of the victims. He also demanded of the government to take steps against kiln owners and ensure proper look after of the children of the victim couple. He further demanded of the government to take steps to prevent the misuse of Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code against innocent persons and committees be set up at the grass-roots level to ensure the implementation of the Bonded Labour Act, 1992.
HLCP Secretary General Naseeb Anjum Chaudhry said that ruling MPA Anees Qureshi, DPO Jawad Qamar and RPO Abu Bakar forcibly got the bodies buried at midnight while the MMP and the residents of Kalarakabad insisted that they would bury the bodies next day but the district administration and the state machinery did not listen to anyone.