A Pakistani anti-terrorism court has acquitted 20 people charged with beating to death a Christian couple at a brick kiln in Punjab in 2014.
Shahzad Maish and his pregnant wife Shama, a Christian couple who worked as laborers at the brick kiln in Kot Radha Kishan town of Kasur district, were lynched to death by a mob of 1,000 people over accusations that they had burned a copy of the Quran.
A fact-finding team sent by Pakistan’s independent Human Rights Commission to investigate the incident found no evidence of blasphemy.
It appears that the murdered man had a dispute over wages, or the recovery of advance payment that the kiln owner had given to two Muslim laborers who had absconded. The kiln owners had asked Shehzad to repay the amount given to the two because he had introduced them to the owners, the commission had said in its 2014 statement.
Police had registered a case against 660 villagers and arrested some 100 people.
In 2015, the court charged 106 with the lynching of the Christian couple. In 2016, the court sentenced five men to death and eight others were charged with being involved in the lynching and sentenced to two years each in prison.
On March 24, the Anti-Terrorism Court judge Ijazul Hassan announced the acquittal of 20 people by giving them the benefit of doubt.
Religious minority activists have condemned the verdict.
“Unfortunately, government prosecutors often fail to do their job which results in the acquittal of culprits,” Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, a Christian lawyer and former Punjab lawmaker, told ucanews.com.
Hyacinth Peter, executive secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Major Religious Superiors Leadership Conference described this acquittal as a norm.
“None of those arrested in mob attacks on religious minorities have been punished in the history of the country,” he said. “Courts are pressurized by fanatics who use both their finances and influences to free their goons. They openly abuse judges,” he told ucanews.com.