A Christian couple in Pakistan have been sentenced to death for blasphemy after being accused of sending blasphemous text messages insulting Muhammad.
Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, who are both in their 40s and have four children aged five to 13, received the verdict at a jail court in Toba Tek Singh on Friday (4 April). They were also fined Rs100,000 each (£600; US$1,000).
The ruling came just over a week after Sawan Masih, a 26-year-old father of three, was given the same sentence and takes to four the number of Christians condemned to death for blasphemy. Aasia Bibi is still awaiting her appeal after more than three years on death row.
Shafqat and Shagufta were accused of sending blasphemous text messages to two local Muslims, one of whom is the prayer leader at a mosque in their hometown of Gojra, on 18 June 2013.
The text came from a mobile phone registered in Shagufta’s name but that she had lost.
The couple’s lawyer, Nadeem Hassan, told Morning Star News that there was no concrete evidence against them and that the police had tortured Shafqat, who is confined to a wheelchair owing to a spinal injury, to force a confession. Mr Hassan told the court that the couple could not have written the text messages as they cannot read or write Urdu properly.
They deny the allegation and will appeal against the sentence.
Mr Hassan said that the judge was “clearly intimidated” by Islamist prosecution lawyers who kept proclaiming verses from the Quran that call for blasphemers to be killed.
Two days before the sentencing of Shafqat and Shagufta, Muslims joined in peaceful demonstrations with Christians in a show of solidarity for Aasia Bibi and Sawan Masih.
The protests, along with prayer and fasting, took place in Lahore and Islamabad.
Aqeel Mehadi, a Muslim human rights activist from Lahore, said:
As we pray and fast we join our Christian brothers and sisters in solidarity. As a Muslim, I am disgusted by what has happened and what continues to happen.
The country’s blasphemy laws, which prescribe the death penalty for “defiling the name of Muhammad”, are frequently used to settle personal scores, with Christians and other minorities being particularly vulnerable to malicious, false accusation.
The plight of Christian mother Aasia Bibi has become a focal point for campaigners against what is referred to as the “black law”. Her long-awaited appeal was meant to take place in February but has been deferred twice. It has now been rescheduled for 14 April.
Sawan Masih’s appeal is set to be heard by the Lahore High Court on 25 July.
CLAAS, a Christian legal organisation in Pakistan supported by Barnabas Fund, is pursuing justice for both falsely accused Christians.