A Pakistani Muslim cleric and four others have been given the death sentence.
The anti-terrorism court in Lahore, Pakistan on Wednesday, November 23, awarded the death sentences to the convicts for burning alive a Christian man and his pregnant wife two years ago.
Judge Chaudhry Muhammad Azam also imposed a fine of 200,000 rupees on each convicted for lynching the couple.
According to the Press Trust of India, eight other suspects were sentenced to two years in prison.
On November 4, 2014 the victims, Shahbaz Maseeh, 26, and his wife Shama Bibi, 24, were accused of setting fire to several verses of the Koran and attacked by colleagues at a brick factory where they worked at Kot Radha Kishan area of Kasur district, 64 kilometers southwest of Punjab’s Lahore city. The couple were planning to flee with their children when the mob caught them.
According to the charge-sheet, the accused gathered a mob by making announcements from mosques that the Christian couple had committed blasphemy. Some 600 Muslims led by area clerics reached the brick kiln were the couple worked as laborers and dragged them out of the room after breaking into it.
They first tortured them and then threw them in the furnace in the kiln. No one from the crowd listened to the couple who were pleading that they were innocent. It was all ashes and some bones of the couple which was left to bury after the gory incident. The couple had three children and Shama Bibi was pregnant at the time of her death.
The factory owner reportedly claimed to have seen half torched Koranic pages between a heap of garbage. The pages of the Koran were apparently put there accidentally by Shama Bibi while she collected personal belongings of her diseased father-in-law.
After discovering the burned verses, the kiln manager, identified as Muhammad Afzal, allegedly forced the Christians to stay indoors until they “pay off their debts.” After an announcement was made in regional mosques, “hundreds of Muslims” went to the room where the couple was held.
A fact-finding team of Pakistan's independent human rights commission found the allegations of blasphemy to be completely false.
Nearly 40 suspects, including Afzal and kiln owner Yousaf Gujjar, were arrested a day after the murder. Pakistan’s blasphemy legislation has created an atmosphere of hatred.
Under those laws, insulting the Koran or Prophet Muhammad can be punished with life imprisonment or death.
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