Pakistan charges 106 over deaths of Christian couple burnt in brick kiln

Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi, murdered by an anti-Christian mob in Pakistan.

Pakistan has charged 106 people with murder over the death of a Christian couple who were beaten and burned to death in November last year after being accused of blasphemy.

Shama Bibi and her husband, Shahbaz Masih, were bonded labourers working in Kot Radha Kishen near Lahore. They were attacked by a mob and then killed in the kiln where they worked.

According to Dawn news, three Muslim clerics have been accused of stirring up a crowd of 400 people with persistent provocative speech. Another 32 suspects are thought to be at large.

Those who were charged on Thursday have pleaded not guilty, according to Dunya News.

The attack started after rumours that the couple had burnt pages of the Quran. They were told they would have to convert to Islam or be condemned for blasphemy. It was later suggested that the motive for their killing could have been financial, as they were said to have a debt they could not pay.

Reports vary as to whether the couple were dead before their bodies were burnt, or whether they were burnt alive. An employee of human rights charity Release International who visited the village immediately after the murders told the Evangelical Alliance: "I was given a bag in my hand, and when I looked into it, I discovered that it was their bones. They were completely burnt. I was holding the hands of two Christians that had been burnt alive for their faith."

He said he spent time with the family following the murder, but that for the first time in his life that he did not know how to pray. The couple's brother was weeping and sobbing, while their grandmother "had no more tears to cry", he said. "She was drained, there was complete sadness in her face."

The case provoked protests about the vulnerable position of Christians in Pakistan. Since then Christians there have been a number of violent attacks against Christians in Lahore, including the bombing of two churches in March.