05/19/2022, 18.07
PAKISTAN
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Christian woman still jailed in Islamabad on blasphemy charges after more than nine months

by Shafique Khokhar

Shagufta Kiran was arrested in July last year for allegedly spreading blasphemous content on WhatsApp. She goes to court next Monday. Meanwhile, her husband and her children express their pain.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – A Christian woman accused of insulting Islam in a WhatsApp group is still in prison after more than nine months.

Shagufta Kiran was arrested on 29 July 2021. As a result, her family was forced to seek a safe house to avoid persecution. she is expected to appear in court next Monday.

“My wife and I lived happily with our children,” said Shagufta’s husband, Rafiq Masih, speaking to AsiaNews. “The accusation of blasphemy has caused our lives to take a bad turn: Now I am very worried about the present and the future.”

Charges against the Christian woman are based on section 11 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (2016) and articles 295 A, 295 C, 298, 298 A and 109 of the Pakistani Penal Code.

Shagufta is accused of disseminating content deemed blasphemous that was sent to her.

Her daughter Nihaal, 18, is still aghast from being separated from a “caring” and “protective” mother.

“We don't feel like buying new clothes for religious festivals,” she told AsiaNews. “We feel no excitement about celebrating any feast without our mother. We are worried about her fate, and pray that the court frees her and that she can come back to us.”

Harrison, Shagufta’s 15-year-old, laments the fact that he couldn't even hold his mother's hand when he went to visit her in prison.

“They keep her in a small cell and there is a separation barrier between prisoners and visitors. It is heartbreaking to see her locked up like that,” the boy explained. “Living without a mother,” he added, “is like living in a body without a soul.”

For Joseph Jansen, president of Voice for Justice, Pakistan’s blasphemy legislation is incompatible with human rights. The law should guarantee a fair trial and religious freedom.

“The blasphemy laws and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act of 2016 are misused to curb freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion, as evinced in several cases, including Shagufta Kiran’s,” said the expert.

Existing laws do not guarantee “the presumption of innocence, the proportionality of punishments, etc.,” he noted. By contrast, “the accuser enjoys impunity despite fabricating evidence.”

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