A Christian couple, 35-year-old Shahzad Masih and his 31-year-old wife Shama Bibi, were burned to death Tuesday morning by a Muslim mob in the south of Lahore (Punjab province), accused of committing blasphemy for allegedly burning pages of the Qur’an.
The two, who worked in a clay-baking factory, were kidnapped on November 2 and held hostage for two days inside the factory. On Tuesday morning at 7:00 a.m. the two were beaten and then pushed into the brick kiln. Shama was pregnant.
According to Sardar Mushtaq Gill, a lawyer and human rights defender who visited the scene of the event, the supposed blasphemy occurred upon the recent death of the Shahzad’s father. Two days ago, Shama was cleaning her father-in-law’s house, and in the process burned some personal items and papers that seemed useless. A Muslim man saw what she was doing and spread the word in the surrounding villages that the papers she burned included pages of the Koran. A mob of over 100 people formed, and took the couple hostage, finally executing them Tuesday.
Emaneul Sarfraz, a relative of the deceased couple, offered a slightly different version of the events. According to Sarfraz, his cousin Shahzad and his wife Shama had been working in the kiln of Muhammad Yousuf Gujjar.
“The couple along with their four children wanted to leave the kiln as Yousuf was not paying their remuneration. He demanded Rs 5,00,000 from them, if they wanted to quit.”
“Two days ago, after an exchange of words Yousuf locked the couple along with their children in a room,” Sarfraz said. After two local mosques announced the alleged blasphemy, “a large number of Muslims led by area clerics reached the kiln and dragged the couple out of the room after breaking into it. They first tortured them and then threw them in the kiln,” he said.
According to another report, as the Christian couple was burning and protesting their innocence, the mob was shouting “Allah hu Akbar,” “death to blasphemers,” and “kill the infidel Christians,” at which Christian residents nearby fled from their homes to safety.
The same report claims that it was the owner of the brick Kiln factory, Yousaf Gujjar, and his manager who instigated Muslims of nearby villages to punish Shahzad and Shama after a Muslim employee complained of them burning of pages of the Qur’an.
The police, alerted by other Christians, came to the scene, substantiated the death and brought in 35 people for questioning.
A local police station official Bin-Yameen confirmed that “a mob attacked a Christian couple after accusing them of desecration of the holy Quran and later burnt their bodies at a brick kiln where they worked.”
Dr. Nazir Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, said in a statement that Pakistani blasphemy laws are a license for Muslims to kill Christians. “Blasphemy laws are only legislated to target religious minorities in Pakistan,” Bhatti said.
Gill called the act “barbaric and inhumane,” calling for the whole world to “strongly condemn this incident, which shows the increased danger for Christians in Pakistan.” A simple accusation “is sufficient to be victims of lynching. We’ll see if anyone is punished for this murder,” he said.
According to AFP, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has established a three-member committee to investigate the killings and has ordered the police to reinforce security in Christian neighborhoods in the province.