A Christian Pakistani couple sentenced to death for blasphemy seven years ago was finally acquitted by the Lahore High Court.
In 2014, Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife Shagufta Kausar were convicted of sending blasphemous text messages insulting the prophet Muhammad to a local imam from a phone number registered to Shagufta'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.
Muhammad Hussain, a Muslim cleric at a mosque in Gojra, alleged that he received blasphemous text messages in June 2013 from a phone number linked to Shagufta.
Then Hussain reportedly showed the text messages to his lawyer who claimed to later receive additional blasphemous messages in English from Shagufta.
In July 2013, the couple was arrested and charged with blasphemy.
Additionally, Shafqat and Shagufta claim that Hussain's allegation was motivated by a minor dispute between the couple's children and their neighbors.
During the trial, the couple's attorney, Saif-ul-Malook, suggested that 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.
But throughout the lengthy investigation, limited evidence was generated against the Christian couple.
"I am just happy to get justice for this couple," Malook told ICC. "It's a bogus case. All judges are afraid. Nobody wants to hear their case and keeps tossing it to another bench."
"A session judge who visited the Faisalabad jail described Shafqat as a hopeless case," Malook continued. "It means that being Christian and a blasphemy accused is itself sufficient for being hated by police, judges, lawyers, and the overall society. They are left to die."
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 hardline 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.
"We here at International Christian Concern are happy to see Shafqat and Shagufta finally acquitted after nearly eight years in prison," said ICC's Regional Manager, William Stark. "It is great to see such a prolonged blasphemy case justly resolved. However, we remain deeply concerned for the safety of the Christian couple and their family."
He added, "Extremists in Pakistan are known to target individuals accused of religious crimes, like blasphemy, even after they have been acquitted. The abuse of Pakistan's blasphemy laws must be curbed, and false allegations must be rooted out and punished. Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minorities. Without reform, religious minorities will continue to face false blasphemy accusations and the violence that often accompanies these accusations."