Latest murders in Pakistan: News reports are deep and thorough

One of the most heinous in a long string of religious murders in Pakistan -- the torture and burning of Shahzad and Shama Masih, a Christian couple -- gets some well-deserved attention from several news outlets.

The coverage includes a satisfying amount of background and explanation. You need it after you read the mind-stopping facts.

From  CNN's report:

Fifty people have been arrested in connection with this week's killing of a Christian couple who were beaten and pushed into a burning kiln in eastern Pakistan, a police official said Thursday.
Investigators believe the 50 were part of a mob that killed the couple Tuesday after the pair were accused of desecrating the Quran, said Bin Yameen, a police official in the Kasur District in Punjab province.
Police said the attack in the village of Kot Radha Kishan came after a local mullah declared the couple were guilty of blasphemy.
The mob allegedly marched to the couple's home, broke down their door, dragged them outside, beat them and threw them into the brick kiln where they both worked.

The crime sounds even more heinous if it's true, as several reports say, that it was instigated by a religious leader -- and that the mosque announced the accusation through loudspeakers.

You can see the story evolving from a few days ago, when the BBC said only 43 were arrested. The BBC also says the couple were beaten to death before being thrown into a kiln. As we've read, CNN says the two were burned alive.

The New York Times adds the name of one of those arrested in its story on the killings -- and says that "the clerics of several mosques" were also among them.

The Wall Street Journal  adds further background,  identifying the Masihs as "bonded laborers in a brick factory" in Punjab. The Journal also reveals that the couple had a dispute with the factory owner over money they owed him. It was after then that the factory's staff accused Masih of burning pages of the Quran.

Blasphemy laws "have been used against both Muslims and non-Muslims to settle personal scores," the Journal adds. "Minority religious groups have been increasingly targeted with blasphemy accusations."

That backgrounding may be the best service of these stories, after the reporting of the murders themselves. It lifts the coverage from mere reporting toward understanding.

The BBC posted an extraordinary sidebar on the origins of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.  Here are some of the eyebrow raisers:

* The legal trail started back in 1860, when India's British rulers "made it a crime to disturb a religious assembly, trespass on burial grounds, insult religious beliefs and intentionally destroy or defile a place or an object of worship." The Pakistani government expanded that in the 1980s, outlawing insults against Muhammad, as well as "wilful" desecration of the Koran.

* Defendants in most blasphemy cases have been Muslims and Ahmadis, not Christians.

* Most Pakistanis support blasphemy laws, but they show little understanding of how the laws are different from quranic content.

* Nearly all of the popular secular parties in Pakistan want to amend the blasphemy laws, but they're reluctant to antagonize the radicals.

Reuters offers other background on why it's hard to fight blasphemy charges:

They are hard to fight because the law does not define clearly what is blasphemous. Presenting the evidence can sometimes itself be considered a fresh infringement.
Christians make up about four percent of Pakistan's population and tend to keep a low profile in a country where Sunni Muslim militants frequently bomb targets they see as heretical, including Christians, and Sufi and Shi'ite Muslims.

Remarkably, as BBC's video shows, Pakistani Christians held a public protest against the killings, complete with a march and banners:

About 200 people in Lahore, mainly from the Christian community and human rights organisations, protested against the killings, which took place in the town of Kot Radha Kishan about 60km (40 miles) to the south-west.
They held signs saying "Christian carnage in the name of blasphemy should be stopped" and "the government has failed to give protection to minorities", BBC Urdu's Shumaila Jaffrey reports from Lahore.

The Guardian not only reports this latest atrocity, but also links to previous stories on persecution of Christians going back to 2011. Four articles focus on Rimsha Masih, who was accused of burning pages of the Qur'an -- an unusual case in she was not only acquitted, but in which officers of a mosque accused a mullah of planting the charred pages.

As powerful a punch as these reports pack, I saw little on the reaction from Pakistan's Muslim leaders on the arrests, as well as the crime. The Guardian did chronicle the 2012 support from Muslim leaders for Rimsha Masih. Their reactions to last week's burning of the Christian couple would have been interesting, too.

It's promising just that the most recent crime has gotten this much media attention. Understanding may yet help to end such atrocities. And the media have a vital role to play.

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