Two Pakistani Christians falsely charged with violating Sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code on July 20, 2013, were acquitted after spending more than seven years on death row.
On April 4, 2014, Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife, Shagufta Kausar, were convicted and sentenced to death for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages about Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and the Quran. The couple denied the charges and testified during trial that a dispute with a neighbor led to the blasphemy accusation.
In Pakistan, blasphemy is a serious subject that often results in violent protests from Muslims. For example, on May 18, 2021, a mob attempted to storm a police station in Golra, near Islamabad, after police refused to hand over a suspect accused of blasphemy. The mob set out to lynch the accused, but failed in its attempt. In another recent case, an enraged mob gathered outside a hospital in Lahore where two Christian women were accused of removing an old sticker that contained a verse from the Quran. One of the women was even attacked by a co-worker with a knife.
And most notably, for years the ACLJ aggressively advocated to help save the life of Christian mother Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to hang under Pakistan’s archaic blasphemy laws. Asia, a mother of five children, was beaten by a mob, arrested, and charged with blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad after she offered to give her Muslim co-workers a sip of water.
We presented Asia Bibi’s plight to the U.N. to urge intervention on numerous occasions. And we sent legal letters to the Pakistani government, demanding her immediate release. More than 800,000 people around the world signed our petition to demand Asia’s freedom.
Thankfully, Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned her conviction and death sentence, granting her freedom.
In Shafqat and Shagufta’s case, the trial court found them guilty of violating Section 295-C, which criminalizes derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad, and sentenced them to death.
On June 3, 2021, the Lahore High Court overturned their conviction, ending the couple’s nearly eight years of suffering. Given Pakistani society’s intolerance for blasphemy accusations, however, the couple still faces major safety concerns. Mob violence and targeted attacks are common in the Pakistani city, Gojra, where the couple lived before their imprisonment. For example, in 2009, a mob of violent Muslim protestors ransacked a Christian neighborhood in Gojra, burned over 100 houses, and burned eight people to death. The infamous attack was triggered by reports that a Christian had desecrated the Quran.
Cases alleging blasphemy are often built on weak evidence and accompanied by an unsafe environment that makes fair trials impossible. These cases represent examples of the violence, discrimination, and targeted attacks that many Pakistani Christians routinely face under the current Pakistani law. Nonetheless, we are hopeful that the acquittals of Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar hint to future positive outcomes for those accused of blasphemy.
We will continue to defend Pakistan’s persecuted Christians through our European counterpart, the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), and its affiliate office on the ground in Pakistan which has been representing clients in cases involving religious freedom and human rights abuses for over ten years.
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