By BosNewsLife Asia Service
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A Pakistani anti-terror court has sentenced five people to death over the killing of a Christian couple who were lynched and burned in a kiln after they were falsely accused of blasphemy against Islam, officials said.
The illiterate couple, Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi, had been accused of tossing out pages of the Koran, deemed a holy book by Muslims, along with the rubbish.
They were beaten and then set on fire by an angry mob of Muslims at the brick kiln in Punjab Province in 2014, prompting Christian families living near their home to flee the area in fear, witnesses and rights activists said.
The rulings meant a rare victory for the Pakistan’s troubled Christian minority as authorities have been hesitant to clamp down on mob violence for fear of angering powerful Islamist groups.
Pakistan’s anti-terror court in Lahore also sentenced eight other people to two years in prison for their part in the killing. The court also acquitted 93 suspects in the case.
DEATH BY HANGING
“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 judgment,” said Riaz Anjum, the lawyer representing the couple’s family.
It was not clear when the death sentences by hanging would be carried out.
After the attack it emerged that the couple had been falsely accused, according to several rights activists. Shahzad’s father, a faith healer who reportedly used pages with inscriptions in many languages for his work, had died shortly before the incident.
The family was reportedly burning documents that belonged to him.
The attack on the couple prompted outrage in Pakistan and abroad, shedding light on the plight of Christians, who make up less than 2 percent of the Islamic country’s population of 170 million.
It underscored international concern about Pakistan’s blasphemy legislation. Blasphemy is legally punishable by death in Pakistan, where even unproven accusations can spark violence.
Critics say the laws are abused to wage personal vendettas, often against Christians.
They also face more isolation after this month Pakistan’s television regulatory body reportedly banned all 11 Christian television channels airing in the country and detained at least six cable operators for defying the order.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, or PEMRA, said it does not grant landing rights for religious content, allowing the airing of Christian messages only for Christmas and Easter.
However Christians say the channels had been operating for more than two and a half decades, just as numerous Islamic channels still do.