Lahore – An enraged Muslim mob beat a Christian couple to death in Pakistan and burnt their bodies in the brick kiln where they worked on Tuesday for allegedly desecrating a Koran, police said.The incident took place in the town of Kot Radha Kishan, some 60 kilometres (40 miles) southwest of Lahore, and is the latest example of mob violence against minorities accused of blasphemy.
“A mob attacked a Christian couple after accusing them of desecration of the holy Koran and later burnt their bodies at a brick kiln where they worked,” local police station official Bin-Yameen told AFP.
“Yesterday an incident of desecration of the holy Koran took place in the area and today the mob first beat the couple and later set their bodies on fire at a brick kiln,” he added.
Another police official confirmed the incident. The victims were only identified by their first names, Shama and Shehzad, and were a married couple.
Pakistan’s brick kiln workers are often subject to harsh practices, with a study by the Bonded Labour Liberation Front Pakistan estimating that 4.5 million are indentured labourers.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif set up a three-member committee to fast track the investigation of the killings and ordered police to beef up security at Christian neighbourhoods in the province, an official from his media office told AFP.
– Hugely sensitive issue –
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in the majority Muslim country, with even unproven allegations often prompting mob violence.
Anyone convicted, or even just accused, of insulting Islam, risks a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.
A Christian woman has been on death row since November 2010 after she was found guilty of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed during an argument with a Muslim woman.
An elderly British man with severe mental illness, sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan in January, was shot by a prison guard last month.
An internal investigation has found that the guard had been radicalised and goaded into the shooting by Mumtaz Qadri, a police bodyguard who murdered the Punjab governor in 2011 for suggesting reform of the blasphemy laws.
Qadri shot dead Punjab governor Salman Taseer at an Islamabad coffee shop. Despite the brutal slaying, Qadri was feted as a hero by a wide section of the public including lawyers for the murder, and was even showered with rose petals as he arrived at court for a trial hearing.
Global rights watchdog Amnesty International urged the Pakistani authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the latest killing.
“This vicious mob killing is just the latest manifestation of the threat of vigilante violence which anyone can face in Pakistan after a blasphemy accusation –- although religious minorities are disproportionately vulnerable,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s deputy Asia Pacific director.
“Those responsible must be brought to justice and the Pakistani authorities have to ensure at-risk communities are proactively given the protection they need.”