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Christian couple sentenced to death for blapshemy will get final verdict in April

by Premier Journalist

As news of Asia Bibi's successful asylum to France hits the headlines, a pair of Christians still on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan are soon to receive a verdict on their appeal.

In a case that shares similarities with Bibi's, couple Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar have been embroiled in a legal battle ever since being sentenced to death in 2014, allegedly for sending text messages that were insulting to the Islamic faith.

However, the pair's new defence lawyer, Khalil Tahir Sandhu, has said he is "confident" of a positive outcome because "there is no clear evidence against the two of them." Indeed, not only is there no evidence of SIM cards being registered in their names, the couple were not even in possession of a phone at the time of the incident, having lost it months earlier. In addition, despite the fact they are completely illiterate, the pair are also accused of writing the offensive messages in English.

Sandhu explained how the initial trial had been set in motion following pressure from the Muslim community. "The trial before the Session Court (First Instance) was conditioned by Islamist pressure," he said.

Shafqat, himself disabled, has claimed that he only confessed to the crime after being tortured. According to his testimony, police also threatened to harm his wife if he failed to provide them with the information they desired.  

"There is no man who can stand to see his wife being tortured by police, so to save my wife, I confessed," he told Christians in Pakistan back in 2016.

The couple is expected to hear the verdict on their appeal on 8th April. In the meantime, they hope that their case will garner the same level of media attention and support as that of Asia Bibi's. Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy charges via a landmark 2018 Supreme Court ruling, after spending almost a year on death row for allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad.

On Friday, Bibi, who has been living in Canada since last spring, met with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss her asylum options. The mother-of-five has expressed a desire to live in France so she can work more closely with French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet, with whom she has penned a book about her ordeal.

Speaking of her desire to live in Europe, Bibi said: "France is a symbol for me. It was the first country in the world to really support me, and the country from which my name became known." 

Following Friday's meeting, an Elysée official said France was "ready to welcome" Bibi if she wished to live there.

There are still 25 Christians in prison for blasphemy in Pakistan, six of whom are awaiting execution for their alleged crimes.

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