Appeal for Pakistani Couple Sentenced to Death for Blasphemy Delayed by COVID-19

04/13/2020 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – The High Court appeal for a Christian couple in Pakistan, sentenced to death under the country’s notorious blasphemy laws, was delayed last week due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to local sources, the appeal will be rescheduled, but no new date has been given.

On Wednesday, April 8, Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife Shagufta Kausar were scheduled to have the verdict of their High Court appeal read out by the Lahore High Court. In 2014, both Shafqat and Shagufta were sentenced to death under Pakistan blasphemy laws after they were accused of sending text messages deemed blasphemous.

On June 18, 2013, Muhammad Hussain, a Muslim cleric at a mosque in Gojra received blasphemous text messages from a phone number allegedly registered to Shagufta while leading prayers. Hussain reportedly showed these text messages to his lawyer, Anwar Mansoor Goraya, who claimed to have later received further blasphemous messages from Shagufta, written in English.

On July 21, 2013, Shagufta and Shafqat were both arrested and charged with blasphemy under Sections 295-B and 295-C of Pakistan’s Penal Code. To extract a false confession, Shafqat claims Gojra City Police tortured him in front of his wife and children. According to Shafqat, he gave this false confession because the police threatened to torture his wife if he refused.

According to Shagufta, Hussain’s accusation against her and her husband is motivated by a minor quarrel between the couple’s children and their neighbors which took place six months prior to the text messages. Shagufta claims that Hussain conspired with a friend to steal her National Identity Card and use it to purchase a SIM card in her name. Using this SIM card, Hussain sent blasphemous text messages to himself.

However, the blasphemous messages were written in English, a language neither Shagufta nor Shafqat can speak. Also, because the couple is from a poor and uneducated background, both are illiterate and incapable of texting even in proper Urdu, let along English.

Throughout the course of the investigation, little evidence was produced against the Christian couple. Police were unable to recover the SIM or the phone allegedly used by Shagufta to send the blasphemous text messages.

Despite this lack of evidence, the Sessions Court of Toba Tek Singh sentenced both Shagufta and Shafqat to death on April 4, 2014. The couple have been jailed separately since 2014 with Shafqat in Faisalabad District Jail and Shagufta in Multan Jail.

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