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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan's prime minister vowed to show "no mercy" to the members of a mob that burned a Christian couple alive in an industrial kiln, as the number of villagers arrested in connection with the crime reached 44. Shahbaz Maseeh, 26, and his wife Shama Bibi, 24, were attacked by colleagues on Tuesday at the brick factory where they worked in Punjab province after word got out that Bibi had burned several verses from the Quran left behind by her dead father. The mob reportedly broke Bibi and Maseeh's legs so they couldn't run away and then threw them in an industrial kiln.
Setting fire to Quranic text is considered blasphemy in Pakistan. While technically punishable by death under strict Islamic law, it is more common for vigilante mobs to take matters into their own hands. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a statement Thursday that "no mercy" will be shown in punishing those responsible for the "unacceptable" crime. "A responsible state cannot tolerate mob rule and public lynching with impunity," Sharif said. "The Pakistani state has to act proactively to protect its minorities from violence and injustice."