A Pakistani court has acquitted 20 men charged with torturing and burning alive a Christian young Pakistani couple in a brick kiln after they were falsely accused of blasphemy.
In a shocking case that caused international outrage in November 2014, Shahzad Masih, 26, and his 24-year-old wife who was five months pregnant, Shama Bibi, from the village of Kot Radhakishan in the Punjab province, were falsely accused by local Muslims of tearing pages out of a Quran while disposing of rubbish, when they were attacked by hundreds of local people.
The couple’s eldest son Suleman, just six at the time, described in television interviews after the attack how he saw his mother and father twitching in the flames of the fire that slowly consumed them.
RadioFreeEurope quoted the prosecutor, Abdur Rauf, as saying that the court on Saturday acquitted 20 suspects.
An anti-terrorism court had previously, in November 2016, sentenced five men to death and given 10 others varying jail terms for playing a supportive role in the killings. Later that year, the court acquitted 93 other suspects in the case.
Pakistan has a notorious blasphemy law, written into Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which provide for penalties ranging from a fine to death. The law is often misused by people seeking to target religious minorities, including Christians, Shi’as, Ahmadiyyas and Hindus, as there is no provision to punish a false accuser or a false witness. Some Muslims have been known falsely to accuse members of minority communities to settle personal scores.
Having tried to hide from the mob, the couple were eventually beaten ruthlessly and burned alive inside the brick kiln that they worked at, leaving behind their three young children, Suleman, Sonia and Poonam.
According to The Christian Post, Yousaf Gujjar, the owner of the brick kiln that the couple worked at as bonded labourers, is believed to have made up the blasphemy allegations because the couple owed him money that they could not pay.
But he was granted bail based on the claim that he was not at the brick kiln the day of the attack.
Only an estimated 1.6 per cent of Pakistan’s 17 million people are Christian, both Catholic and Protestant. Around 97 per cent of the Pakistanis are Muslim, predominantly Sunni.