06/04/2021, 13.33
PAKISTAN
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Christian couple acquitted of blasphemy charges after eight years on death row

by Shafique Khokhar

The Lahore High Court overturned the death sentence imposed on Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, two illiterate parents accused out of revenge of sending a message against the prophet of Islam  on a mobile phone. For Christian lawmaker Khalil Tahir Sandhu, the law should punish those who make false accusations.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Lahore High Court acquitted a Christian couple, Shafqat Emmanuele Shagufta Kausar, from blasphemy charges for lack of evidence. The two spent eight years on death row.

“I have fought a legal battle for this innocent couple for years,” said their lawyer, Saif ul Malook, a Muslim. “I am happy that justice has been done.” A detailed order from the court is expected in the next two days.

Both husband and wife can neither read nor write. They have four children (Zain, Danish, Joshua and Sarah) and lived in extreme poverty in the Mission compound in Gojra (Punjab).

According to the couple, their ordeal began with a minor quarrel between their children and neighbours six months before a complaint was filed against them.

Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar were arrested for allegedly sending a blasphemous text message against the Prophet of Islam in July 2013.

Despite their illiteracy, Toba District Court Judge Tek Singh sentenced them to death on 4 April 2014. The sentence was overturned yesterday by Justices Anwar-ul-Haq and Syed Shehbaz Rizvi of the Lahore High Court.

Prosecution lawyer Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry told Reuters he would use all possible means to reverse the High Court ruling because insulting the prophet of Islam in a Muslim-majority country carries the death penalty.

In April, the European Parliament took up the case of the now acquitted couple. In a resolution, it called on the European Commission to review the trade benefits guaranteed to Pakistan's exports to Europe.

MEPs noted that Islamabad had failed to stem the rising number of blasphemy cases. The resolution also called on the Pakistani government to immediately repeal its blasphemy laws.

In Pakistan, such an accusation is often used for personal vengeance or religious hatred; this tends to encourage violence.

Last month, a mob raided a police station in the capital Islamabad in order to lynch two men accused of destroying a mosque.

Khalil Tahir Sandhu, a Christian MP and one the lawyers who represented Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, spoke to AsiaNews about the case.

“I am happy that after eight years the court declared them innocent. Shafquat is now paralysed from being confined in Faisalabad Jail, and cannot move, while Shagufta has been kept in Multan Women’s Jail in solitary confinement.

“I wonder if she was in the same death row where Asia Bibi was. One can easily imagine how miserably they both spent eight years of their life in jail on false accusations of blasphemy.”

“I am happy today, but my question is who is responsible for these eight years,” Khalil Tahir Sandhu said, “why is there impunity for prosecution witnesses and complainants even when they gave false statements before the honourable court.”

“The point I raised in the court was that the mobile’s sim card (from where the blasphemous text was sent) was not sent for a forensic test and without forensic test it is not admissible in the court. This was the main point the court accepted.”

“I would suggest changing the law” to include “punishment for those who fabricate false cases of blasphemy in personal vendettas.”

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