High Court in Pakistan Acquits Christian Couple on Death Row for Blasphemy
Couple Finally Released After Being “Left to Die” on Death Row
06/03/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Lahore High Court has acquitted Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife Shagufta Kausar, two Christians sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. The acquittals end a nearly eight-year legal struggle that saw the Christian couple jailed separately on death row.
On June 3, Justice Syed Shehbaz Rizvi and Justice Anwar-ul-Haq of Lahore High Court acquitted Shafqat and Shagufta after almost eight years in prison for allegedly committing blasphemy through text message.
“I am just happy to get justice for this couple,” Saif-ul-Malook, the couple’s attorney, told ICC following the court’s decision.
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. Hussain reportedly showed these text messages to his lawyer, Anwar Mansoor Goraya, who claimed to later receive further blasphemous messages from Shagufta, written in English.
On July 21, 2013, Shagufta and Shafqat were arrested and charged with blasphemy under Sections 295-B and 295-C of Pakistan’s Penal Code. Shafqat claims that, in order to extract a false confession, Gojra City Police tortured him in front of his wife and children.
The Christian couple claims that Hussain’s accusation is motivated by a minor quarrel between the couple’s children and their neighbors, which took place six months before the accusation. Shagufta claims that Hussain conspired with a friend to steal her National Identity Card and used it to purchase a SIM card in her name. Using this SIM card, Hussain sent blasphemous text messages to himself.
Throughout the investigation, little evidence was produced against the Christian couple. Police were unable to recover the SIM card or the phone allegedly used by Shagufta to send the blasphemous text messages. The blasphemous messages were also written in English, a language which neither Shagufta nor Shafqat speak.
Despite this lack of evidence, the Sessions Court of Toba Tek Singh sentenced both Shagufta and Shafqat to death on April 4, 2014. Since 2014, the couple was jailed separately with Shafqat in Faisalabad District Jail and Shagufta in Multan Jail. In prison, Shafqat’s health quickly deteriorated due to a lack of medical care for a spinal injury he sustained in 2004.
“It’s a bogus case,” Malook recently told the Union of Catholic Asian News. “All judges are afraid. Nobody wants to hear their case and keeps tossing it to another bench.”
“A session judge who visited the Faisalabad jail described Shafqat as a hopeless case,” Malook continued. “It means that being Christian and a blasphemy accused is itself sufficient for being hated by police, judges, lawyers, and the overall society. They are left to die.”
In Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are common and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. Accusations are highly inflammatory and have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests.
ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are happy to see Shafqat and Shagufta finally acquitted after nearly eight years in prison. It is great to see such a prolonged blasphemy case justly resolved. However, we remain deeply concerned for the safety of the Christian couple and their family. Extremists in Pakistan are known to target individuals accused of religious crimes, like blasphemy, even after they have been acquitted. The abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must be curbed, and false allegations must be rooted out and punished. Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minorities. Without reform, religious minorities will continue to face false blasphemy accusations and the violence that often accompanies these accusations.”