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Christian couple beaten and burned alive by Muslim mob in Pakistan after “blasphemy” accusation

6 November 2014

A Christian couple, Shehzad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi, were killed by a Muslim mob in Pakistan on Tuesday after being accused of desecrating the Quran.

The couple were beaten and burned alive in a brick kiln after local media reported that they had burned pages of the Quran and thrown them in a rubbish bin. The mob attack was incited by the mullah of the local mosque; announcements were made over mosque loudspeakers asking Muslim villagers to gather at the kiln.

The incident occurred in a village near the town of Kot Radha Kishan, which is around 60 kilometres south-west of Lahore. An angry mob descended at around 7.00 a.m. on 4 November on the home where the couple lived with their three children. The assailants beat the couple with clubs, stripped them naked and paraded them around the brick kiln. When the couple could no longer walk on their fractured legs, the mob burned the Christians alive in the kiln furnace.

Five policemen who tried to intervene to save Shehzad and Shama were unable to stop the 600-strong mob. Some of the attackers had climbed onto the roof of the room where the couple had taken refuge and broke through it in order to drag the couple out.

Days before the attack, a Muslim co-worker at the brick kiln where the couple worked as bonded labourers claimed that he saw Shama burn rough papers, including pages of the Quran, when she collected the belongings of Shehzad’s father, who had passed away days before. Local media reports state that Shama is illiterate and so could not have known what she was burning, if the incident did take place.

Some reports have suggested that the accusation of blasphemy may have had an underlying motive related to a financial dispute between the couple and their Muslim employer, Muhammad Yousaf Gujjar. Pakistan’s “blasphemy laws” are often misused to settle personal grudges, and Christians are particularly vulnerable to false accusation by Muslims.

The dispute between the couple and their employer reportedly began when Shehzad and Shama decided to leave the brick kiln, and their employer refused to pay them. Instead he demanded a payment of 500,000 rupees (£3,043; €6,498; US$8,135) from them before they would be allowed to leave.

Currently, 50 people, including Muhammad Yousaf Gujjar, have been arrested in connection with the murders. Police have registered a case against 660 villagers and are still looking for others who were involved. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has established a committee to head the police investigation. He has also ordered the police to increase the security of Christian neighbourhoods in the surrounding areas.

The couple were originally from the Christian village of Clarkabad, but moved three or four years ago to work at the kiln. Many impoverished Christians in Pakistan are forced to work as bonded labourers at brick kilns, where the low wages they are paid keep them in grinding poverty for generations. Because of their low pay they are obliged to take loans from their Muslim employer, who ensures that they are never able to fully pay them back. Hence they are trapped in their jobs.