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Pakistani couple sentenced to death over text message

A Pakistani Christian couple has been sentenced to death under the country's controversial blasphemy laws.

Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife Shagufta Kausar have been convicted by a court in Toba Tak Singh of sending a local imam in Gojra a text message in July last year,  which allegedly insulted the prophet Muhammad.

According to reports, judge Mian Amir Habib announced the death sentence against the Christian couple, who deny the charge and were tried together on Friday, under the notorious blasphemy laws of Pakistan.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws make it a criminal act to insult another's religion and little evidence is required to register a case, so false accusations are common and often used to settle personal scores, target religious minorities or further extremist agendas.

Gojra is also the same city in which seven people were shot dead and over 100 homes and two churches burnt to the ground in August 2009, in one of Pakistan's most severe attacks on a Christian community.  

Supporters of the Christian couple say the phone SIM card was not registered in their names, nor were the couple literate enough to write the texts in English.

They are set to appeal their sentence with claims they didn't get a fair trial.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide's told Premier's News Hour why he thinks the blasphemy laws need to be repealed.

Elsewhere, Sawan Masih, a Pakistani Christian man who was convicted of blasphemy charges and sentenced to death on 27th March, has filed an appeal against his conviction at the High Court in Lahore.

Masih was accused of blasphemy under Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code on 8 March 2013. As news of the accusation spread, a mob of thousands targeted the Christian-majority area of Joseph Colony, Badami Bagh, Lahore, torching an estimated 198 properties on 9 March 2013. 

Statistically, according to CSW, most of those accused of blasphemy in Pakistan are from Muslim backgrounds, although religious minorities such as Christians make up a disproportionate number of victims.

Meanwhile, on April 14th the twice-postponed appeal of Asia Bibi will reportedly be heard before Lahore's High Court..

The mother of five was arrested in 2009 on charges of insulting Muhammad.

In 2010, she was sentenced to death under the country's 'black law''.

Since then, she has been waiting for her appeal to be heard, held in isolation at the women's prison in Sheikhupura (Punjab).

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