Islamabad: An Anti-Terrorism Court on Wednesday sentenced to death five men over the lynching of a Christian couple in 2014, in Kot Radha Kishan town, in the Kasur district of Pakistan’s central Punjab province.
Eight others tried for involvement in the crime were sentenced to two years each in prison.
A mob had lynched Shahzad and his wife Shama for their alleged role in desecrating the Quran. Both were brick kiln workers.
Five policemen who tried to rescue the couple were held hostage.
The lynching had caused international uproar and a top Vatican official described the happening as a humiliation for all of humanity.
The deaths of Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi caused outrage in Pakistan and saw other Christian families living near their home in Punjab flee the area in fear.
Blasphemy is legally punishable by death in the deeply conservative Muslim country, where even unproven accusations can stir violence.
Critics say the laws are abused to pursue personal vendettas, often against Christians.
Witnesses described how an angry mob of hundreds of people set upon the couple near the town of Kot Radha Kishan in Punjab in 2014, attacking them and then throwing their bodies into a brick kiln.
It is unclear whether they were still alive when tossed into the kiln.
Riaz Anjum, the lawyer representing the couple’s family, said a total of 103 people had been charged in the case. But the court in the eastern city of Lahore had acquitted 90, including the owner of the brick kiln.
He had been accused of locking the couple up as they tried to flee for fear they would default on their debt to him.
“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 judgement,” Anjum said.
Senior prosecutor Khurram Khan confirmed the ruling.
It was not clear when the death sentences would be carried out.
After the attack it emerged that the couple had been falsely accused.
Shahzad’s father, a faith healer who used pages with inscriptions in many languages for his work, had died shortly before the incident. The family was burning documents that belonged to him.
- with inputs from AFP