LAHORE, Pakistan — Five Muslim men have been sentenced to death in their part in murdering a couple who they mistakenly thought had committed blasphemy against Islam.
On Wednesday, Judge Chaudhry Azam sentenced Irfan Shakoor, Muhammad Hanif, Mehdi Khan, Riaz Kamboh and Hafiz Ishtiaq to die by hanging for allegedly throwing Shama Bibi, 28, and Shahzad Masih, 32, into a burning kiln in 2014. Eight others were sentenced to two years behind bars.
“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,” attorney Riaz Anjum told The Independent.
While dozens had originally been charged in the case, those suspects were acquitted, including the owner of the kiln.
“The families of the deceased people have suffered a lot of pressure, even though the state had become the complainant in the case to thwart any attempt to pressure the victims’ family for reaching a settlement with the powerful accused,” Anjum also told Morning Star News. “But conviction of five people by the court is no small feat, and I hope this verdict would be seen as a stern warning against any such violence against minorities in the future.”
As previously reported, Bibi and Masih lost their lives in Nov. 2014 after they were encircled by a mob who had been informed over mosque loudspeakers that the couple had been found guilty of blasphemy against Islam.
According to reports, following the recent death of her father-in-law, Bibi burned the trinkets that he had used to practice black magic, as well as some of his “faith healer” writings. But when others discovered what she had done, they rather accused her of burning the Koran.
“Shama burned the amulets and some other related material, assuming that this was the best way to get rid of ‘evil stuff,’” an unidentified family member told Morningstar News. “She later threw the ashes on a garbage heap outside their quarters when Muhammad Irfan, a Muslim co-worker, noticed some half-burnt pieces of paper from the amulets and raised a clamor, claiming that Shahzad’s family had desecrated Quranic pages.”
Bibi and her husband worked for a brick factory owner near the village of Kot Radha Kisha and had three young children, who are now orphaned.
When area Muslims heard the call from the local mullah that the couple had been declared guilty of blasphemy against Islam, a crime resulting in life imprisonment or death, hundreds rushed their workplace and broke down the door.
Bibi and Masih were then dragged outside and beaten “using fists, kicks and batons at will.” Some reports state that the mob chanted “Allahu Akbar” as they took vengeance on the couple—a popular phrase among Muslims, meaning “Allah is the greatest.”
While Bibi is believed to have died from the beating, her husband remained alive through the incident. However, the mob then grabbed both Bibi and Masih and threw their bodies into the fiery kiln used for making bricks, burning Masih to death and incinerating him and his wife to powder.
“According to the police, they were unable to recover the bodies of the persecuted couple except their ashes,” one Pakistani man stated.
An appeal is expected to be filed for the five men sentenced to death in the killings.