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Couple sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan plead for freedom

Christian couple sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan ‘after they were tortured into a confession’ plead for freedom at final appeal hearing

  • The married couple, from Gojra near Lahore, have been on death row since 2016 
  • Shagufta Kausar and husband Shafqat Emmanuel were accused of sending texts insulting the Prophet Muhammad  
  • The wife’s  brother has claimed that their confession was extracted under torture
  • Even unproven allegations of insulting Islam in Pakistan can spark assassinations and lynchings from furious mobs

A Christian couple sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan will appear in court tomorrow for the final hearing in their appeal after six years on death row. 

Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel, a poor Christian couple from the town of Gojra in Pakistan’s Punjab region, will attend a final hearing at Lahore’s High Court tomorrow after being on death row since 2014.  

They were arrested for sending blasphemous text messages that insulted the Prophet Muhammad to a local Imam. 

Shagufta’s brother Joseph said he visited the couple in jail where they told him the confession was extracted under torture. 

Shagufta Kausar (right) and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel have spent the last six years in jail waiting for an appeal against their death sentence for ‘blasphemy’ to conclude. Their final hearing is tomorrow at the High Court in Lahore

Pakistani soldiers stand guard outside the Lahore High Court in 2018. The couple’s case is stronger than Asia Bibi’s, their lawyer said, adding that judges are often ‘fearful’ to overturn rulings. Some high-profile justices have been assassinated for releasing people accused of the crime

‘He told me the policeman hit [Shafqat] so hard that his leg was broken,’ Joseph said. 

He added that the conviction has taken a toll on the couple’s four children who ‘wish to see their parents again’. 

As to the accusations against his family, Joseph, who asked to remain anonymous,  said he thought the couple were illiterate so doubted they could have written the messages. 

He told the BBC that his sister worked as a caretaker in a Christian school and that Shafqat was out of work, owing to a disability, at the time of their arrest. 

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan and any conviction warrants a death sentence.

This undated handout photo released to in 2018 shows a portrait of Asia Bibi, who was acquitted of blasphemy in 2018

Even unproven allegations of insulting Islam can lead to assassinations and lynchings from furious mobs. 

Though no-one has yet been hung for the crime, those who are set free face the wrath of extremist vigilantes. 

The couple’s lawyer, Saif ul Malook – who represented Asia Bibi and helped overturn her conviction in 2018 – said the couple’s case was stronger than Bibi’s but that judges are often ‘fearful’ to overturn rulings.   

Some high-profile justices have been assassinated for releasing people accused of the crime.  

Last year, Amnesty International said: ‘Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are overly broad, vague and coercive. 

People shout slogans as they protest the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian accused of blasphemy, whose death sentence was annulled by the Supreme court, in Lahore, Pakistan, in November 2018

‘They have been used to target religious minorities, pursue personal vendettas and carry out vigilante violence.’ 

According to Malook, the couple believes one of their Christian neighbours bought a sim card in Shagufta’s name and sent the messages to the Imam to settle a score.       

The acquittal last October of Bibi, a Christian who had spent more than eight years on death row for blasphemy, provoked violent protests across Pakistan.

Bibi now lives in Canada with her family.

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