Former MP demands Faizabad-esque release of Christian suspects

  • As many as two suspects in Youhanabad lynching incident have died so far at the Kot Lakhpat Jail.

Former Member of Parliament, Sindh Assembly Saleem Khurshid Khokhar has demanded the release of 40 suspects in the Youhanabad lynching incident in a letter addressed to the Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

In March 2015, two Muslim men were lynched after protests erupted in the wake of two suicide blasts outside two churches in Lahore’s Christian dominated Youhanabad.

As many as two suspects in Youhanabad lynching incident have died so far at the Kot Lakhpat Jail. The latest of them being the 29-year-old *Usman Shaukat Masih, who died on Saturday for reasons not established yet.  Earlier in August this year, Indriyas Masih died after suffering from Gastrointestinal Tuberculosis. However, the family of the late Indriyas, who died at the age of 33, had accused jail authorities for showing negligence in giving him proper medical treatment.

On the other hand, in a letter that dates back to November 30 but surfaced only yesterday on social media platforms, Khokhar demands the release of all the prisoners just like the clean chits handed over to the Faizabad protesters.

Khokhar said that just like the Faizabad agreement, where all the cases were dropped against the protesters, the Youhanabad suspects should be released as soon as possible. “Just because we don’t have weapons and that we are a minority, the state won’t do an agreement with us?” he questioned while talking to Pakistan Today via phone from United Kingdom (UK).

Khokhar, however, corrected himself by stating that the person who had allegedly offered the suspects freedom if they renounced their faith and embraced Islam was in fact a Deputy District Public Prosecutor (DPPP) Syed Anees Shah and not the Deputy Attorney General of Punjab as stated in the letter.

However, Shah was removed, in April earlier this year, by the Punjab government from anti-terrorism court in the wake of such allegations levelled against him.

On a question about whether or not due process of law should be followed in the Youhanabad lynching case, Khokhar asked that why didn’t the same law apply to the Tehrik-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) chief Khadim Rizvi and his supporters. “They were involved in killing a police officer and beating several others, while also harming the state property, why were they all released?” he questioned.

The copies of this letter have also been mailed to the Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, however, Khokhar is yet to receive a response.

Suspects accused of blasphemy have no hope

The Christian community is one of the most persecuted minorities in Pakistan with a sudden surge in riots, mob lynchings, target killings and bomb blasts targeting their congregations and Churches in the last decade. In September earlier this year, Sharoon Masih – a Christian teenager – was beaten to death by his class fellow for drinking from his glass in Bhurewala.

However, blasphemy allegations have accounted for most of the violence against the Christian community. Advocate Riaz Anjum is the counsel in five such cases in Lahore, Kharian, Kasoor, Saraye Alamgir and Gujrat.

Although the cases are being heard regularly, there is a slim chance of acquittal. “Don’t you see what is happening around in this country, we can only hope for relaxation in period of imprisonment,” he said when asked about the chances of acquittal.

*An earlier version of this story wrongfully named the suspect who died in Kot Lakhpat as Shaukat Masih; his full name is Usman Shaukat Masih