An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Lahore on Saturday acquitted 20 people suspected of involvement in the lynching and burning alive of a Christian couple who were accused of blasphemy in Kot Radha Kishan in 2014.
Shahzad and Shama were burned alive in a brick kiln by a frenzied lynch mob ─ incited by announcements made from mosques in the area ─ ranging between 400-1,000 people for their alleged role in the desecration of the Holy Quran in Nov 2014. Both husband and wife were brick kiln workers, and the woman, a mother of three, was pregnant at the time. Police had registered a case against 660 villagers after the incident.
Read more: Tracing footsteps in Kot Radha Kishan
The court today acquitted 20 suspects, giving them the benefit of doubt. Among the 20, 15 people were identified as Faryad, Babar Ali, Islamuddin, Zulfiqar Ali, Arshad Ali, Jawed, Abid, Sabir, Muhammad Sharif, Sarfraz, Sultan, Aftab, Muhammad Ashraf, Abid Hasan, Asif and Owais.
The ATC in Nov 2016 sentenced five men to death on two counts for their involvement in the burning alive of Shahzad and Shama. Eight others were also charged with involvement in the lynching and sentenced to two years each in prison. In 2015, the ATC had indicted 106 suspected in the lynching.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan, 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.