LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday acquitted two of the five people sentenced to death for the 2014 killing of a Christian couple, who were lynched and burned in a kiln in Kasur’s Kot Radha Krishan after being falsely accused of blasphemy.
The court also dismissed appeals by the three other convicts and upheld their death sentences. The previously reserved verdict was announced by a two-member LHC bench led by Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan.
In November 2016, an anti-terrorism court had sentenced to death five convicts – a cleric Hafiz Ishtiaq, Mehdi Khan, Riaz Kambo, Irfan Shakoor and Muhammad Hanif – for the lynching of a Christian couple, Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi.
Of the five convicts, the LHC accepted Hanif and the cleric Ishtiaq’s appeals against their death sentence and ordered their acquittal.
The ATC had also awarded two-year jail terms to eight other convicts for aiding and abetting the crime; Muhammad Hussain, Noorul Hasan, Muhammad Arsalan, Muhammad Haris, Muhammad Muneer, Muhammad Ramazan, Irfan and Hafiz Shahid.
The brutal murder of Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi on November 4, 2014, had caused outrage across the country and saw other Christian families living near their home in Punjab flee the area in fear.
The illiterate couple had been falsely accused of tossing out pages of the Holy Quran along with other household waste. Witnesses had described how an angry mob of hundreds of people set upon the couple near the town of Kot Radha Kishan, attacking them with sticks and stones and then throwing their bodies into a brick kiln.
The challan submitted by the police said Rescue 15 was informed that a woman, Shama, who worked at Yousaf Gujjar’s brick kiln in Chak No 59, had allegedly disrespected the Holy Quran by burning its pages and a charged mob had gathered around her house.
When Sub-Inspector Muhammad Ali, ASI Abdul Rasheed and other police officials, who were out on patrol on Adda Manga Road, reached the scene they found 500 to 600 people gathered at the kiln.
The mob was beating the couple with sticks when the police arrived on the scene.
The ransacked room of the couple’s house. PHOTO: SHAFIQ MALIK / EXPRESS TRIBUNE
The police officials said they tried to stop the mob from damaging the brick kiln’s roof – which they were removing to throw the couple into the fire – but the policemen were beaten and pushed back.
The mob later pushed the couple into the kiln in the presence of police and other witnesses – Iqbal Masih, Shahbaz Masih, Nazir Masih and Imran Masih.
According to the challan, the postmortem report confirmed the couple was alive when they were thrown into the kiln and the cause of their death was “burning from dry heat”.
After the attack, it emerged that the couple had been falsely accused.
Shahzad’s father, a faith healer who used pages with inscriptions in many languages for his work, had died shortly before the incident. The family was burning documents that belonged to him.
The police had nominated 140 persons in the case. After the sentencing, Riaz Anjum, the lawyer representing the murdered couple’s family, had confirmed that a total of 103 people were charged in the case.
However, 90 accused were acquitted including the owner of the brick kiln. He had been accused of locking the couple up as they tried to flee for fear they would default on their debt to him.
A tractor trolley, a broken TV, papers including ‘amulets’, a broken lock, torn police uniforms and wooden sticks – used in torturing the couple – were case properties.
The deceased couple was survived by two sons, Suleman and Zeeshan, and two daughters, Sania and Ponam.
– With additional input from AFP.