Shama and Shahzad Masih were poor Christians who lived in the small village of Chak 59 in the Tehsil (subdivision) of Kot Radha Kishan near Lahore. It is not a remote area (though some orientalist in the BBC has managed to describe it as such), being a well developed center of the leather industry lcoated only 60 kilometers from the provincial capital of Lahore on a major national highway (and is the home of 2 former prime ministers of Pakistan!). Like many other poor people in their village, they worked as modern-day slaves in the local brick kiln. This, by the way, is not an exaggerated or poetic description of their employment status; bonded labor in brick kilns in India and Pakistan is internationally recognized as a type of modern slavery and involves many of the abuses known to us from books and movies about slaves in the days of yore.
The young couple had 4 children: Solomon (8) and Zeeshan (5) had been given to an uncle for adoption, probably due to the parent's poverty. Sonia (4) and Poonam (18mths) lived with them and Shama was pregnant again with her fifth child. Her father-in-law had died recently and a few days later Shama cleaned out his room and disposed of his old papers by burning them. He had been an "amil" (a folk healer) who used various religious texts in his amulets and suchlike, and the burnt papers apparently included some with arabic writing on them. Shama, who was illiterate and so could not read them in any case, burnt the lot and threw the remains on a nearby garbage heap.What happened next is best described in this report from World Watch Monitor (corroborated to me by a friend in the police as the best description of the event):