Originally published in The Guardian
A Muslim mob beat a Christian couple to death in Pakistan and burnt their bodies in the brick kiln where they worked for allegedly desecrating a Qur’an, police have said.
The attack in Kot Radha Kishan, 40 miles south-west of Lahore, is the latest example of violence against minorities accused of blasphemy.
Latest News: 44 arrested
On Wednesday, the police detained 44 people in connection with the attack, which they described as “a local issue incited by the mullah of a local mosque.”
“No particular sectarian group or religious outfit was behind the attack,” Jawad Qamar, regional police chief, told Reuters.
“A mob attacked a Christian couple after accusing them of desecration of the holy Qur’an and later burnt their bodies at a brick kiln where they worked,” local police station official Bin-Yameen said.
Another police official confirmed the incident. The victims were only identified by their first names, Shama and Shehzad, and were married.
Pakistan’s brick-kiln workers are often subject to harsh practices. A study by the Bonded Labour Liberation Front Pakistan estimated that 4.5 million are indentured labourers.
Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif has constituted a three-member committee to fast track the investigation of the killings and ordered police to increase security at Christian neighbourhoods in the province, an official from his media office said.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in the majority-Muslim country, with even unproven allegations often prompting violence.
Anyone convicted, or even just accused, of insulting Islam, risks a violent 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 Muhammad 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.
Global rights watchdog Amnesty International urged Pakistan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the 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.”