Desperate plea as couple face death row over alleged text messages

Olivia Lambert
·News Editor
·3-min read

There is a desperate bid to release a husband and wife who are on death row for sending blasphemous text messages.

Pakistani couple Shagufta Kausar and her husband, Shafqat Emmanuel, were arrested in 2013 and convicted of insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

For the past seven years after being convicted in 2014 they have been facing the death penalty and on Wednesday a Pakistani court adjourned a long-awaited appeal.

Lawyer Saiful Malook is seeking the release and overturning of death penalty sentences for the pair and no new date has been set for the case, which has drawn international attention.

Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar are appealing the sentence. Source: Jubilee Campaign
Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar are appealing the sentence. Source: Jubilee Campaign

Mr Malook told the Associated Press he would apply for a new hearing date.

“I have an impression as if the judges don't want to hear this case due to unexplained reasons," he said.

The couple have denied ever sending a blasphemous text message to a local cleric in the eastern Punjab province.

It was alleged the text messages were traced to a phone with a sim card registered in Ms Kausar's name. The couple however believe the sim was obtained by somebody using a copy of her National Identity Card.

Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting Islam or other religious figures can be sentenced to death if found guilty. While authorities have yet to carry out a death sentence for blasphemy, just the accusation of blasphemy can cause riots in Pakistan.

Desperate plea to change blasphemy laws

Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for South Asia, Samira Hamidi, said in a statement the pair must be immediately and unconditionally released.

“The mandatory death sentences for Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel are emblematic of the dangers faced by the country’s religious minorities as long as the blasphemy laws remain in place," she said ahead of the adjourned appeal.

"They have been in prison for the better part of eight years waiting for their appeal hearing, when they should not be in jail in the first place.

“The Government of Pakistan must urgently repeal its blasphemy laws that have been flagrantly abused and caused an immeasurable amount of harm.”

Amnesty International says the blasphemy laws in Pakistan are incompatible with international human rights laws, are overly broad, vague and coercive.

A stock image of a person on their phone reading text messages.
The couple have denied ever sending a blasphemous text message to a local cleric. Pictured is a stock image. Source: Getty Images, file

The organisation alleged the Pakistan government targeted religious minorities and pursued personal vendettas.

"Judges, fearing reprisals if they do not deliver the harshest sentences, often fear for their lives when adjudicating blasphemy cases," the statement said.

The couple's appeal was first due to be heard in April last year but was postponed amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amnesty International said during their last hearing on February 15 judges left the court when they were due to hear the appeal.

According to domestic and international human rights groups, blasphemy allegations in Pakistan have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and to settle personal scores.

A Punjab governor was killed by his own guard in 2011 after he defended a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy.

She was acquitted after spending eight years on death row and left Pakistan for Canada to join her family after receiving threats.

with AP

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