A 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 3 June, 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.
On 18 June 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 21 July 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 neighbours, 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 4 April 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.
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. In April, the European Parliament passed a motion condemning Pakistan for failing to protect religious minorities, focusing on the case..
Source: _International Christian Concern, Reuters, BBC, World Watch Monitor