106 People Charged in Pakistan Over Mob Killing of Christian Couple by Brick Kiln

( [email protected] ) May 22, 2015 01:01 PM EDT
Pakistan Murder of Christian Couple
Pakistani human rights activists condemn the killing of the Christian couple for alleged blasphemy during a demonstration in Islamabad, Pakistan, in November. B.K. Bangash/AP

Authorities in the country of Pakistan have charged 106 people in connection with a mob killing of a Christian couple in the Punjab province. The couple was beaten and burned to death over blasphemy allegations.

According to a report from BBC News, laborers Sajjad Mesih and his wife Shama, who was pregnant, were killed last year after claims surfaced that burnt pages of the Koran were found near their mud brick house. Their bodies were later placed in a brick kiln.

"The charge sheet produced by the Pakistan anti-terrorism court says the accused - three clerics - were involved in persistent provocative speech against the couple, according to local media," BBC News wrote. "Thirty-two suspects are said still to be at large."

According to BBC News, angry members of the village told the poor couple that they had to convert to Islam as repentance or face the consequences of blasphemy for allegedly burning pages of the Koran.

"The next day hundreds of people converged on the kiln," BBC News wrote. "They were dragged out, attacked with bricks and shovels and later laid on the brick oven to be burnt alive."

BBC News reported that the case raised fears among Christians in Pakistan, where most of the people adhere to Islam. The country also has controversial blasphemy laws on the books, and attacks against Christians are common there.

Waqar Gillani wrote about the incident in the New York Times back in November 2014. He described the circumstances that led to the Christian couple's death.

"As word spread, the couple [was] locked up in a room adjacent to the brick kiln by their employer, Yousaf Gujjar, who also had a running dispute with the couple over money," Gillani wrote. "Some accounts in local news media suggested that Mr. Gujjar accused them of blasphemy after they refused to repay money he had lent them."

Gillani added that local clerics "made incendiary announcements" and encouraged people to gather. Police said the couple was tortured first before sending them to the kiln.

"By the time police arrived, the couple was already dead," local police chief Jawad Qamar said. "Their bodies were totally burned."

According to Gillani, police arrested 48 people, and a criminal case was filed against 460 people back in 2014. He elaborated on the draconian nature of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

"Accusations can be punishable by execution. But more often, blasphemy accusations end up leading to vigilante violence," Gillani wrote in regards to the blasphemy laws. "Rights activists say such accusations are frequently used to settle personal vendettas or to harass religious minorities. Mere criticism of the blasphemy codes has even led to threats and violence."

Tags : Pakistani Christians, Pakistan police, Muslims vs. Christians Pakistan, Christian persecution, Christian persecution Pakistan, Christian couple death Pakistan, Pakistan charges on Christian couple's death, Pakistan blasphemy laws, Pakistan Punjab province, Pakistan Christian minority, Sajjad and Shama Mesih