Five people have been sentenced to death in Pakistan today for killing a Christian couple who were lynched and burned in a kiln by a Muslim mob after being falsely accused of blasphemy.
The illiterate couple had been falsely accused of tossing out pages of the Koran along with the rubbish, desecrating the Muslim holy book.
The deaths of Shahzad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi caused outrage in Pakistan and saw other Christian families living near their home in Punjab to flee the area in fear.
Shahzad’s father, a faith healer who used pages with inscriptions in many languages for his work, had died shortly before the incident. The couple burning some of his documents, which led to the misunderstanding.
Witnesses described how an angry mob of hundreds of people set upon the couple in a hamlet called Chak 59 near the town of Kot Radha Kishan in Punjab in 2014, attacking them and throwing their bodies into a brick kiln.
It is unclear whether they were still alive when tossed into the kiln.
Their three children were orphaned and all that remained of them was charred bones and their discarded shoes.
Riaz Anjum, a lawyer representing the couple’s family, said a total of 103 people had been charged in the case.
But the court in the eastern city of Lahore had acquitted 90 people.
Mr Masih worked as a labourer at the brick kiln and among those acquitted was his employer.
He had been accused of locking the couple up as they tried to flee for fear they would default on their debt to him.
Five men were sentenced to hang and eight others were jailed for two years each.
‘The five people awarded the death sentence were involved in dragging, beating and burning the couple while the other eight played a supportive role according to the judgement,’ Mr Anjum said.
Senior prosecutor Khurram Khan confirmed the death sentences.
Blasphemy is legally punishable by death in the deeply conservative Muslim country, where even unproven accusations can stir violence.
Critics say the laws are abused to wage personal vendettas, often against Christians.
By the time the attack was over, only charred bones and the couple’s discarded shoes remained.