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The Pakistani authorities must bring to justice those responsible for the vicious mob killing of a Christian couple accused of blasphemy today, Amnesty International said.

Local police reported that an angry crowd today attacked and killed a Christian married couple in Kot Radha Kishan outside of Lahore, Punjab, and then burned their bodies at the brick kiln where they worked. Rumours circulated that the couple had desecrated a Qu’ran the day before, although the circumstances of this accusation are not clear.

“This vicious mob killing is just the latest manifestation of the threat of vigilante violence which anyone can face in Pakistan after a blasphemy accusation – although religious minorities are disproportionately vulnerable. Those responsible must be brought to justice and the Pakistani authorities have to ensure at-risk communities are proactively given the protection they need,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director.

“This type of violence is fuelled by Pakistan’s repressive blasphemy laws, which add to the climate of fear for religious minorities. A mere accusation of blasphemy is often enough to put a person and their wider community in danger. In this case, a mob appears to have played judge, jury and executioner.”

“The blasphemy laws violate international human rights law and standards and should be reformed as a matter of urgency to provide effective safeguards against their abuse, with a view to their eventual repeal. Consistent failure by the government to tackle violence in the name of religion has effectively sent the message that anyone can commit outrageous abuses and excuse them as defence of religious sentiments.”

The Punjab government has reportedly set up a committee to fast track the investigation into today’s killings, and ordered additional police protection to Christian neighbourhoods in the province.

“The local government’s response is encouraging, but it remains to be seen what comes of the investigation. The climate of impunity around violence against religious minorities in Pakistan is pervasive, and it is all too rare that those behind attacks are held to account,” said David Griffiths.