Lahore, Dec 24: Two clerics and four women were among 59 people indicted by a Pakistani anti-terrorism court on Wednesday for burning alive a Christian couple over alleged desecration of the Quran in Punjab province.
An angry mob of Muslims had burnt alive the couple Shahzad Masih, 35, and his pregnant wife Siama alias Shamah, 31 by throwing them into the furnace of a brick kiln after severely beating them for alleged desecration of the Quran, on November 4.
Their bodies had been reduced to ashes by the time police managed to disperse the mob. The gruesome incident occurred in Kot Radha Kishan of Kasur district, 50 kilometres from Lahore.
"ATC Lahore Judge Haroon Latif today indicted 59 persons including two clerics, four women and a kiln owner accused of burning alive the Christian couple," an ATC official said.
He said nine other accused however had been sent on judicial remand. "As the accused refused to accept the charges the judge asked the prosecution to present witnesses from next hearing," the official said.
The court adjourned the hearing till January 2. According to a fact finding report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, there was "absolutely no evidence of desecration of the Holy Quran".
The report said that apparently Shahzad had a dispute over wages, or recovery of advance that the kiln owner had extended to him. Shahzad and Shama were severely beaten up at the kiln and then locked up in a room.
Shortly thereafter, when word of the alleged desecration spread to nearby villages through mosque loudspeakers, a mob of hundreds headed towards the kiln and threw them in the furnace, the report said.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has granted Rs 5 million and 10 acres of land as compensation to the grieving family. He said the state would also bear the education expenses of the couple's three children.
The incident was the latest in a string of gruesome crimes against Christians. Last year in March, an enraged Muslim mob had torched over 100 houses of Christians in Lahore following an allegation that a Christian man had committed blasphemy.
Human rights activists allege that Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law is frequently misused to target minorities and settle personal scores and disputes.