An Anti-Terrorism Court on Wednesday sentenced five men to death on two counts for their involvement in the burning alive of a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan in 2014.

ATC-I Judge Chaudhry Muhammad Azam imposed a fine of Rs200,000 on the five men identified as Mehdi Khan, Riaz Kambo, Irfan Shakoor, Muhammad Hanif, and Hafiz Ishtiaq ─ a local prayer leader ─ for their involvement in the lynching.

Eight others have also been charged with involvement in the lynching and sentenced to two years each in prison.

The eight men were identified as Muhammad Hussain, Noorul Hasan, Muhammad Arsalan, Muhammad Haris, Muhammad Muneer, Muhammad Ramazan, Irfan and Hafiz Shahid.

A challan submitted in court claimed the five men handed the death penalty gathered a large mob of hundreds by making announcements over a mosque loudspeaker and incited them to violence with incendiary speech.

Kot Radha Kishan lynching

A mob of around 400 people lynched Shahzad and Shama for their alleged role in desecrating the Holy Quran in November 2014. Both husband and wife were brick kiln workers from Chak-59 of Kot Radha Kishan, a town in Kasur district. The woman, mother of three, was pregnant.

Police and witnesses told Dawn in Nov 2014 that announcements had been made from mosques on Tuesday asking villagers to gather at the Yousaf brick kiln where 25-year-old Shama and her husband Shahzad Masih worked as bonded labourers.

Over 1,000 charged people from three villages took out the couple from a room (where they had taken shelter) after tearing apart its roof.

The mob tortured the couple before putting them into the kiln’s furnace.

The mob held hostage five policemen who tried to rescue the couple. The villagers also manhandled some media personnel and snatched their cameras.

Police registered a case against 660 villagers, including 60 who were nominated in a First Information Report lodged on the complaint of Sub-Inspector Muhammad Ali of Chowki Factory Area.

The FIR said the mob had thrashed the couple and dragged them to a kiln where Mohammad Yousaf Gujar, the kiln owner, and his accountants Shakeel and Afzal, allegedly removed a lid from one of the openings of the furnace and threw the couple into it.

"Both Shama and Shahzad were reduced to ashes in no time," the FIR stated.

'No one listened to her'

Bilqees, a local Muslim resident, recounted the horrific incident to Dawn in 2014.

She said that Shama, known in the village as Saima, married Shahzad Masih about 10 years ago. They had three children aged between two and seven. She said Shama was pregnant at the time of the incident.

Nazir Masih, father-in-law of Shama, was a faith healer and died a few weeks ago. After his death, Shama had burnt some of his belongings, including papers. She added that Shama was illiterate.

Bilqees said a vendor who had visited the brick kiln found the pages of the Holy Quran and showed them to the villagers.

Later on Tuesday morning, hundreds of villagers gathered at the kiln and burnt the couple alive without even listening to Shama.

“She was screaming that she was unaware of what the papers were about, but no one listened to her,” Bilqees said.

International uproar

The lynching of Shama and Shehzad caused international uproar. In 2014, A top Vatican official described the lynching of the couple as a humiliation for all of humanity.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the chair of the Roman Catholic church's council for interfaith dialogue, had said he was profoundly shocked by accounts of the horrific death of Shehzad and Shama.

“How can we remain impassive before such crimes, justified in the name of religion?,” Tauran had earlier said on Vatican Radio, urging Muslim leaders in Pakistan to vigorously condemn the killings.

“It is all of humanity that is humiliated,” he had said, adding: “The first victims are in fact Muslims because these misdeeds give an image of Islam that is terrible."

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