A Pakistani Christian couple sentenced to death for blasphemy have had their final appeal delayed. Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel were due to go before the courts 3rd June for a last-ditch appeal hearing, but it never materialised.
According to reports, the hearing has been postponed until 22nd June, though the specific reason for this delay is yet to be confirmed. Shagufta and her partially paralysed husband Shafqat have been behind bars since 2014 after being arrested for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages to a local Islamic leader. Shagufta worked as a caretaker in a Christian school prior to the blasphemy charges being brought against them.
However, their lawyer, Saif ul Malook, who rose to prominence after he represented acquitted Christian mother Asia Bibi, insists that the evidence against the pair is deeply flawed. 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; the couple was not even in possession of a phone at the time of the incident, making the allegations even more implausible.
Malook has said that the judges in these cases are reluctant to rule in favour of Christian defendants out of fear they will be personally targeted by Islamic extremists. There is some speculation that the 2nd June hearing had to be postponed after the judge failed to turn up to the courtroom.
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 blasphemy conviction was overturned by the Pakistan Supreme Court in 2018. Bibi now lives in Canada with her family.