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Couple sentenced to death for 'blasphemy' plead for freedom in last-ditch appeal hearing

by Premier Journalist

A Christian couple who have been sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan will appear before Lahore's high court today for their final appeal hearing after spending six years on death row. 

Shagufta Kausar and her disabled husband Shafqat Emmanuel have been in prison since 2014 after being arrested for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages to an Islamic leader.

However, their lawyer Saif ul Malook, who also represented acquitted Christian mother Asia Bibi, says that the evidence against the couple is deeply corrupted. According to Malook, one of the couple's neighbours bought a sim card in Shagufta's name and sent offensive messages about the Prophet Muhammad to a local Imam in order to settle a score arising from a family dispute; the couple was not even in possession of a phone at the time of the incident. 

Malook also noted that judges in these cases are reluctant to rule in favour of Christian defendants out of fear they will be personally targeted by Islamic extremists.

In 2011, Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were both assassinated for criticising the blasphemy laws and speaking out in support of Asia Bibi, whose conviction was overturned by the Pakistan Supreme Court in 2018. Bibi now lives in Canada with her family. 

According to Shafqat's brother, Joseph, the accused was tortured into a making a false confession. "He told me the policeman hit [him] so hard that his leg was broken," the brother explained to the BBC. Joseph added that the bogus conviction has taken a brutal toll on the couple's four children, who simply "wish to see their parents again." 

"All the time they are crying… they are missing them," he said. 

Last year, Amnesty International called Pakistan's blasphemy laws "overly broad, vague and coercive," and noted that they've been used "to target religious minorities, pursue personal vendettas and carry out vigilante violence." 


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