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21 November 2014

Eyewitness of Pakistani Christian couple's murder calls for peace

An eyewitness who held the "completely burnt" bones of the Christian couple in Pakistan has called for peace in an exclusive interview with the Evangelical Alliance.

A Release International employee was handed a bag containing the bones of 26-year-old Shahzad Masih and his 24-year-old wife Shama Bibi, who were burnt alive on 4 November.

The eyewitness spent time with the family following the murder, but said it was the first time in his life that he didn't know how to pray.

The couple's brother was weeping and sobbing, while their grandmother "had no more tears to cry", he said.

"She was drained, there was complete sadness in her face."

The couple lived in "bondage labour", working at the brick kilns with many other Christians who were trapped because they couldn't pay off the money they had been loaned by the kiln owner.

When the eyewitness, who cannot be named for his own protection, arrived at the village, there was a "really tense atmosphere", with hundreds of villagers there.

"I was taken into the house of the family, and the police were there taking the first information report." Reports claim police were present during the beating and torture that occurred before the couple were put into the brick kilns, but did not act.

"I was given a bag in my hand, and when I looked into it, I discovered that it was their bones. They were completely burnt."

The eyewitness said: "I was holding the hands of two Christians that had been burnt alive for their faith."

But after this, a Christian spoke to the village to urge that no hatred would be caused between Muslims and Christians because of this tragic situation.

"We must have peace," the village heard.

The Release representative was asked to pray over the two coffins before the funeral, which was attended by both police and the local Muslim politician.

"There was a really sombre feeling, I think a lot of the people were in shock."

Despite the brutality of the killing, the Christians there continued to praise God and pray.

"That is the Christian community in Pakistan," said the representative. "I have observed that their faith is unbelievable."

But this murder, while horrific, is not an isolated case.

Violence towards Christians has increased in recent years, with other Pakistani converts being burnt, raped and murdered for their Christian faith.

"I think the Christians in Pakistan are angry, but they are also long-suffering and frustrated," he said, explaining how many there think nothing is being done to protect them and the great injustices they face.

Yet their faith continues: "I have had to cry out to God and say: 'God I want this real relationship these people have'."

So what can people in the UK do to help the worsening situation of Pakistani Christians?

"We have to pray, that's number one. And number two: we need to write letters to our government."

The British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) is organising a rally outside 10 Downing Street on 22 November from 11am to 1pm, and is calling on Christians to come out in support.

"We are calling people of good conscience from any faith or no faith to join us and honour the lives of Shahzad and Shama, while calling for Britain to lever change in Pakistan through dialogue and engagement," said Chairman of the BPCA Wilson Chowdhry.

A one-hour Christian memorial service will take place at the beginning of the protest and will include a dance for Blasphemy Law victim Asia Bibi, by Catholic British National Dancer Latasha Sinclair. Catholic band Ooberfuse will perform a live remix version of their Free Asia Bibi song. The original song video gained over 105,000 views on You Tube.

Director of advocacy Dr Dave Landrum says this latest incident is a clear misuse of the country's blasphemy law to persecute Christians.

"This barbaric act represents the latest in a long line of brutal acts of religious intolerance against Christians in a country which is set to receive more than £400 million in aid from taxpayers in the UK.

"The Evangelical Alliance call on the UK government to unequivocally condemn this execution of an innocent Christian couple and use its influence to persuade Pakistan to bring the full weight of the law against the perpetrators. There needs to be an acknowledgement that such barbarous attacks are no different in seriousness than the barbarous attacks of IS in the name of Islam. The world is watching and waiting for the Pakistani government to act fast and decisively to halt this persecution."

To sign the petition to call on the government to take action against Pakistan, visit the page here.