Fifty people have been arrested after a Christian couple was beaten and pushed into a burning kiln in eastern Pakistan.
Investigators believe those arrested were part of a mob that killed the pair on Tuesday after they were accused of "blasphemy" for desecrating the Quran, said Bin Yameen, a police official in the Kasur District in Punjab province.
Shama Bibi was beaten to death before the enraged mob threw her body into the kiln, a relative said. The 28-year-old mother of four children was five months pregnant.
The relative told Morning Star News that her husband, Shahzad Masih 32, was also beaten but was still alive when he was thrown into the kiln with his wife's body. The couple is survived by two boys and two girls, the eldest son being 7 years old.
The province's government will give the couple's family ten acres of land and pay the couple's family 5 million Pakistani rupees -- about $49,000 -- as compensation for their deaths, the province's chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, said in a news release.
Desecration of the Quran is punishable by death or life imprisonment under Pakistan's anti-blasphemy law. However, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have long called for the country to repeal the law, arguing that it is often used to settle personal vendettas.
"This type of violence is fueled by Pakistan's repressive blasphemy laws, which add to the climate of fear for religious minorities," the organization said in a statement. "In this case, a mob appears to have played judge, jury and executioner."
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the horrific incident stemmed over money the kiln's owners said the couple owed them.
The kiln's owners reportedly spread the accusation that the couple had desecrated the Quran "to nearby villages and announcements (were) made through mosque loudspeakers," the HRCP said.
The mob that went to the kiln was estimated at around 500 people, the rights group said, citing local police.
The HRCP said its team learned that four policemen went to the kiln to demand that the couple be handed over for protection from the mob, but that the owners "instructed their employees not to hand the couple over and the policemen were also beaten up."
Attorney Aneeqa Maria says the callous attitude of the government and police showed that they would brush this case under the rug in the same way they did with those accused in the Joseph Colony arson, which destroyed 175 homes, after rumors spread of an alleged remark against Islam by a Christian.
"The police were the complainants in the case - name one accused who has been convicted in the case," Maria said, adding that the government will not get away with "three murders." "In fact, most of the accused are out on bails, while several others have been acquitted of the charges because of deliberately weakened prosecution. This is what the government wants to do in this case too."