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Christian Couple Accused Of Blasphemy In Pakistan Were Burned Alive

Police have arrested up to 40 people for killing a laborer and his pregnant wife accused of desecrating a copy of the Qur'an.

Posted on November 6, 2014, at 1:25 p.m. ET

Police arrested up to 40 people accused of fatally beating and burning a Christian couple accused of desecrating the Qur'an in Pakistan's Punjab province, CNN reported.

Police identified the woman as Shyman Bibi Urf Shamar and her husband as Sajjad Nasir Zurjah Nazir Nasir.

A mob of around 500 people allegedly dragged the couple outside their home, assaulted them and then threw them in a burning brick kiln where they worked as laborers.

ARIF ALI/AFP / Getty Images

The police officer in charge of the investigation said he was told by local residents that the couple was still alive when they were pushed into the kiln.

The mob attacked the couple because the woman allegedly threw out pages of the Qu'ran with the trash, police said. The local mosque's loudspeakers spread word about the couple in neighboring villages.

ARIF ALI/AFP / Getty Images

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said in a statement there was no evidence of the Qu'ran's desecration. HRCP said the couple were killed because of the husband's wage dispute with the kiln's owner.

According to HRCP's version of events, the kiln's owners allegedly severely beat the couple, locked them in a room at the kiln and refused to hand them over to policemen, who were also beaten. The mob then descended on the kiln after news of the couple's alleged blasphemy spread, and burned them alive.

The couple had three young children, and the woman was pregnant with their fourth child when she was killed, HRCP said.

ARIF ALI/AFP / Getty Images

Relatives carry the three children of the slain couple.

AP Photo/http://K.M. Chaudary

The son of the slain couple.

HRCP said they are "shocked and saddened beyond words by the callous murder of the couple and their unborn child." The organization also said that the couple's religious beliefs did not work in their favor.

Under Pakistan's anti-blasphemy law, desecration of the Qu'ran is punishable by death or life imprisonment.

ASIF HASSAN/AFP / Getty Images

Human rights groups have long been fighting to repeal the law that is used to target the country's minorities – including Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis. The law is also exploited to settle personal scores resulting in vigilante mob violence and murders, the groups said.

"Falsely accusing Christians of blasphemy has become a routine," Joseph Francis, an activist fighting for Pakistanis accused of blasphemy, told NPR.

ASIF HASSAN/AFP / Getty Images

"No false accuser has ever been punished. Such impunity has led to a surge of such incidents," Francis said.

In 2011, the provincial governor of Punjab and the country's minorities minister were murdered after they called for reforms in the blasphemy law and supported Asia Bibi, the first woman in Pakistan sentenced to death under the law . Bibi, a Christian mother of five, has spent four years on death row and will appeal her conviction before the Supreme Court.