A Pakistani court has sentenced five men to death over the killing of a married Christian couple burned to death inside a brick kiln by a Muslim mob after they were falsely accused of desecrating a copy of the Quran in 2014.
An anti-terrorism court in Lahore on Wednesday sentenced the five men to death by hanging for murdering Shahzad Masih, 26, and his 24-year-old, five months-pregnant wife, Shama, in Kot Radha Kishan in November 2014.
Although it was believed that hundreds of Muslims were involved in the ruthless mob murder and at least 103 people were arrested and charged for the crime, the anti-terror court acquitted 90 people on Wednesday, including the owner of the brick kiln, the man believed to be behind the false blasphemy claim, Yousaf Gujjar.
Additionally, eight others were sentenced to serve two years in prison for their involvement in the couple's lynching.
There is no timetable yet for when the death sentences will be carried out.
"The five people awarded the death sentence were involved in dragging, beating and burning the couple while the other eight played a supportive role, according to the judgment," Riaz Anjum, the lawyer representing the victims' family, said, according to The Express Tribune.
Although it took over two years, the ruling and convictions signify that at least some justice has finally been served for those guilty of killing the Christian couple. However, the family is devastated that more people were not convicted.
"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 told 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 lead to two deaths seems too lenient."
Shama's father, who is now the guardian of the couple's three children, said he and his grandchildren are now receiving death threats from the family members of of those accused 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."
Pakistani authorities have long been hesitant to crack down on mob violence against Christians and other religious minorities, but Wednesday's sentencing gives people hope that the system will change.
"These convictions are a watershed moment for Pakistani Christians," BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry said in a statement shared with The Christian Post. "It is rare for perpetrators of violence against Christians to receive a conviction. For the sentencing to be so strong in this court case sends out a strong message that violence will be met with the weight of the law. The perceived impunity for mob attacks on Christians has been countered and now hopefully will reduce such crime."
BPCA has aided the children of Shama and Shahzad and hired a full-time nanny to take care of them. Additionally, BPCA has helped repaint the family's home and buy the children comfortable beds, bedside cupboards, and school supplies.
"The family of Shama and Shahzad now need a time for solace and healing. The ongoing case and the constant death threats on the family have had their toll and the children often question why they and their parents were hated so much," said Chowdhry, whose organization is accepting online donations to help persecuted Christians.
"The government of Pakistan must work with us and other groups to ensure the protection of the family is of paramount importance. Quite frankly, the family has suffered enough."