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Convicted of Blasphemy: Pakistani Couple's Death Row Appeal Delayed Again After Six-Year Wait

06-05-2020

A Pakistani couple sentenced to death for blasphemy six years ago is still waiting for their appeal to be heard. But the family of the poor Christian couple from the town of Gojra says the end of their long ordeal could soon be in sight. 

Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel have remained behind bars since 2014. They have four children. 

The BBC reports a final hearing was scheduled at Lahore High Court on Wednesday but has been delayed.  A new court date will be announced. Proceedings have slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Saif ul Malook, the couple's attorney who also represented Asia Bibi, told the BBC the evidence used to convict the two Christians was deeply flawed. However, he warned that the country's judges in past cases have been scared of acquitting suspects due to the risk of being targeted by Islamic extremists.  

Maltook said he thinks the case against Shagufta Kausar and her husband is even weaker than the case against Bibi. 

The couple was convicted six years ago of sending blasphemous text messages insulting the prophet Muhammad to a local imam from a phone number registered to Shagufta Kausar's name.

Under Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting Islam or its prophet can be sentenced to death. Although no one has ever been executed for it, dozens of people have been killed by mobs for just being accused of the crime.

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Shagufta's brother Joseph, who requested his surname not be published, told the BBC the couple was innocent, and he doubted they were literate enough even to have written the abusive messages.  Joseph said Shagufta told him he had been tortured into making a false confession.

"He told me the policeman hit him so hard that his leg was broken," he said. 

The blasphemy laws are often misused to settle personal scores and target minorities, according to human rights groups. During the couple's trial, Maltook suggested a neighbor the couple had argued with might have attempted to frame them by purchasing a SIM card in Shagufta's name and sending the text messages. 

Blasphemy convictions are often overturned on appeal in Pakistan. As CBN News reported, Asia Bibi was acquitted and proclaimed innocent by the Supreme Court after serving more than a decade on death row. 

In the months following her acquittal, thousands of hard-line radical Islamists took to the streets of Pakistan's major cities in protest. Bibi's life was in grave danger, and she was ferried around to different safehouses in a bid to keep her alive. She was later granted asylum in Canada.

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