The Lahore High Court on Thursday acquitted two men convicted for the 2014 burning alive of a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan.
Shahzad and Shama Masih 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. In 2015, an anti-terrorism court had indicted 106 suspected in the lynching.
In Nov 2016, the ATC sentenced five men ─ identified as Mehdi Khan, Riaz Kambo, Irfan Shakoor, Muhammad Hanif, and local prayer leader Hafiz Ishtiaq ─ to two counts of death for their involvement in the burning alive of the couple.
Eight others were also charged with involvement in the lynching and sentenced to two years each in prison.
Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan headed a two-judge bench hearing appeals filed by Muhammad Hanif and Hafiz Ishtiaq against the ATC's 2016 verdict.
The appeals of three other convicts, Mehdi Khan, Riaz Kambo, Irfan Shakoor, were dismissed today by the court, which upheld their death sentences.
The lawyer for the convicts appealed to the court against the punishment handed to them by the ATC, saying that the court had given its verdict without taking the law into consideration.
He said that all the convicts had been nominated at a later stage in the case and pleaded for their acquittal.
The state prosecutor argued that there was solid evidence against all the convicts and requested the court to scrap the appeal.
The court subsequently acquitted two of the convicts, while upholding the ATC's earlier verdict on the appeals of three of the convicts.
A detailed judgement in today's case is awaited.
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 also held hostage five policemen who tried to rescue the couple and 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 had stated.