PAKISTAN – Muslim extremists sentenced to death for burning Christians alive
An anti-terror court in Pakistan has sentenced to death Muslim extremists convicted of killing a Christian couple by burning them alive. Shahzad Masih and his wife Shama Bibi who was five months pregnant were killed after being accused of blasphemy for burning pages of the Koran. The murders sparked national outrage and the case was moved to the Anti-Terrorism Court in Lahore.
Killers Imam Hafiz Ishtiaq, Mehdi Khan, Riaz Kambo, Irfan Shakoor and Muhammad Hanif were fined £1,600 each and sentenced to death by Judge Chaudhry Muhammad Azam for inciting violence and throwing the couple into the kiln. Another eight men – Muhammad Hussain, Noorul Hasan, Muhammad Arsalan, Muhammad Haris, Muhammad Muneer, Muhammad Ramazan, Irfan and Hafiz Shahid – were jailed for two years and fined.
More than 50 people were originally charged under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act for “the use or threat of action … to coerce and intimidate or overawe the Government or the public … or create a sense of fear or insecurity in society”.
No execution date has been decided and it could be years before the death sentence is carried out, if at all. Riaz Anjum, from the Voice Society which represented Shama’s father, Mukhtar Masih, said: “Although several of the suspects were acquitted after statements by Shahzad’s brothers, still five have received the punishment of death, which is an extraordinary step by the court.”
The British Pakistani Christian Association is now trying to move Shama’s father to a safe house. He is the guardian of his daughter’s surviving three children and the family has received death threats and abuse in the wake of the court case.
Shahzad’s sister-in-law Parveen Bibi said that Shahzad’s late father Nazar “used to do black magic” with amulets containing verses from the Koran. He had died a week before and Shama was reportedly going through his belongings. She burnt the papers and threw the ashes onto the rubbish heap. Mrs Bibi said Shama did not mean to disrespect Islam as she was illiterate and had no idea what the amulets contained.
However, passers-by recognised the text and a mob of 600 people soon surrounded the property. The couple were beaten to near death by the mob which included the local imam and then thrown into the kiln at the brick factory where they worked in Kot Radha Kishan 37 miles south of Lahore. A post-mortem report found the couple were still alive when they were thrown into the kiln.