By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- Angry Muslims burned to death a married Christian couple in an industrial kiln in Pakistan, Tuesday, November 4, for allegedly setting fire to several verses of the Koran, a human rights official told BosNewsLife.
Shahbaz Maseeh, 26, and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi, 24, were attacked by colleagues at the brick factory where they worked in Punjab province, confirmed Mushtaq Gill, chief advocate at Christian rights group Evangelical Association Development (LEAD).
He said the couple had planned to flee with their three young children
The incident in Kot Radha Kishan town, some 64 kilometers (40 miles) southwest of Punjab's Lahore city, happened after a factory manager claimed to have seen half torched Koranic pages between a heap of garbage, Gill explained.
He said the pages of the Koran, viewed as a holy book by Muslims, 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 till they "pay off their debts."
After an announcement were made in regional mosques, "hundreds of Muslims" went to the room where the couple was held, he said.
"Some men entered the room and dragged out the couple. They started beating them with clubs and fractured their legs," Gill told BosNewsLife. "The mob later dragged the couple towards the kiln's furnace and burnt them while they were still alive."
Afzal was not immediately available for comment. However local police station official Bin Yameen later confirmed the incident. "Yesterday an incident of desecration of the holy Koran took place in the area and today the mob first beat the couple and later set their bodies on fire at a brick kiln," Yameed said.
Nearly 40 suspects, including Afzal and kiln owner Yousaf Gujjar, were under police custody Tuesday, November 4, Gill added.
Gill told BosNewsLife that Pakistan's blasphemy legislation has created an atmosphere of hatred. "The blasphemy law is just to persecute the Christians and others who disagree with the Islamic faith," he said.
Under Pakistani blasphemy laws, insulting the Koran or Prophet Muhammad can be punished with life imprisonment or death. Activists say the legislation is often misused to settle personal disputes.
Last month appeals court in Pakistan upheld the death sentence against Asia Bibi, a devoted Christian mother of five. She has been detained since 2009 after she reportedly told Muslim co-workers that Jesus Christ is alive.
Two politicians, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer, and Christian federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were even assassinated in 2011 for criticizing the country's blasphemy legislation under which she was sentenced.
Gill said his LEAD group has urged the international community to "raise a voice for the survival and safety of Christians and their faith in Pakistan," which he added is not possible without overturning blasphemy legislation.
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(BosNewsLife (2004-2014) is the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians. It has been 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since May 2004).
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