A Pakistani court has handed five men the death sentence over the mob killing of a Christian couple who were lynched and burned in a brick kiln after being falsely accused of blasphemy.
On Nov.23, a Lahore anti-terrorism court ruled the five men will die by hanging for having dragged, beaten, lynched and burned Shahzad Masih, 26, and his 24-year-old pregnant wife, Shama Bibi, in Kot Radha Kushan in November 2014, The Christian Post reports.
Out of the hundreds of Muslims who had participated in the merciless mob murder, some 103 individuals were arrested and charged for the fatal attack. Of these, 90 were acquitted by the anti-terror court on Nov. 23, including Yousaf Gujjar, the brick kiln owner believed to have spread the false blasphemy rumor.
It is yet unclear when the five men will be put to death by the Pakistani justice system.
The court also sentenced eight other Muslim citizens to two years in prison for their role in the couple's murder.
The illiterate Christian couple was falsely believed to have tossed out pages of the Muslim holy book the Quran along with the trash, The Independent reports. The senseless and violent incident spurred other Christian families living near the couple's home in Punjab to escape the town in fear.
In highly conservative Pakistan, blasphemy is legally punishable by death; alleged accusations of blasphemy are known to have triggered violent reactions.
Critical observers say the laws are used to carry out personal vendettas, which frequently target Christians.
Relatives of the murdered couple expressed disappointment over the court's convictions.
"I am disappointed with today's result as my eldest daughter, Yasmeen, who saw the whole incident, witnessed at least 15 men involved in the brutal violence against my daughter, Shama, and her husband, Shahzad," Mukhtar Masih commented to the London-based charity British Pakistani Christian Association.
"Only five of those men have been convicted with a death sentence yet the other poured kerosene over Shama and Shahzad and were also violent," he added. "Two years imprisonment for those who were involved in lesser capacity for a crime that [led] to two deaths seems too lenient."
The female victim's father, who is raising the couple's three children, said death threats have been levied against him and the children by the family members of those charged and convicted.
"My life and the lives of Suleman, Sonia and Poonam have been devastated," Masih said. "We are now starting to receive death threats from all the families of those accused and fear for our lives. This small justice could still end up costing us even more."