Former nurse and mother-of-four Shagufta Kiran was arrested in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad in July 2021 after she was accused of forwarding a WhatsApp message that contained blasphemy. Since her arrest she has been waiting for trial in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Central Jail and her case hearings have been repeatedly adjourned.
LATEST NEWS (APRIL 2023): On 14 April 2023 the Islamabad High Court rejected Shagufta’s petition for bail. Her husband Rafique Masih said an application would be made to the Supreme Court.
At around 4 am on 29 July 2021, armed agents from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Cybercrime Wing raided the home of Shagufta Kiran (37) in the Iqbal Town area of Islamabad without a warrant and arrested her and her two youngest sons (then aged 10 and 12), accusing them of violating Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Shagufta had allegedly forwarded a WhatsApp message that contained blasphemous content in September 2020.
Shagufta reportedly pleaded with the officers not to arrest her sons but they ignored her plea and took them for questioning. Her husband Rafique Masih, who was not present during the arrest, described the incident: “They harassed my family and took possession of our telephones, computer and other valuable items. The police armed with firearms instructed us not to move and to keep our hands up. They arrested Shagufta and my two sons without prior information or an arrest warrant. They took my wife and sons to the police station, charged Shagufta under 295-A and 295-B of Pakistan’s blasphemy but later on freed my sons.”
Shagufta was a member of several interfaith WhatsApp groups where she defended her Christian faith and she was accused of forwarding a blasphemous message in one of these groups called “Pure Discussion”. Rafique said his wife forwarded the message without reading it and explained, “Shagufta knew nothing about the post, she was not even the author of the post in question.” Rafique also said it was more than likely that Shagufta had accidentally forwarded the message and questioned why she was targeted for forwarding a message that had already been forwarded many times.
Shagufta was charged with insulting Islam (Section 295-A of Pakistan’s Penal Code, punishable by up to ten years in prison), insulting the Prophet Muhammad (Section 295-C, which carries the death penalty), uttering words with deliberate intent to outrage religious feelings (Section 298), derogatory remarks in respect of holy personages (Section 298-A), abetment (Section 109) and inciting interfaith hatred (Section 11 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016).
A Morning Star News reporter who heard audio clips from the group said the administrators threatened Shagufta repeatedly with “serious consequences” and attacked her Christian faith, while she accused them of trying to blackmail her with threats of baseless blasphemy charges.
One of the administrators of the WhatsApp group, Shiraz Ahmed Farooqi, filed blasphemy charges against Shagufta. He is a member of Islamist group Tehreek Tahaffuz-i-Namoos-Risalat (TTNR, Movement for Protection of Finality of Prophethood). Its general secretary, Hafiz Ihtesham Ahmed, said admins for the WhatsApp group had invited members of TTNR to monitor conversations and said TTNR filed the case with the FIA in September 2020 after receiving screenshots of messages that Shagufta had allegedly forwarded.
After Shagufta was charged with blasphemy her family had to flee Islamabad because of threats and went into hiding. She endured four days of interrogation before being transferred to Adiala Central Jail in Rawalpindi, Islamabad’s neighbouring twin city, where Rafique has been able to visit her occasionally.
Shagufta is being held in solitary confinement but is allowed to get out and walk around during the day. She reportedly has her Bible and reads it and prays whenever she feels sad or lonely.
Shagufta’s bail application was filed under section 497 of the Criminal Procedure Code in the Special Judge Central FIA court in Islamabad, but on 21 March 2023 Justice Muhammad Azam Khan rejected the petition after listening to arguments from lawyers on both sides.
Shagufta’s four children were reportedly fasting and praying on the day of the court hearing and were very disappointed by the decision to dismiss the petition.
The bail application was then taken to the Islamabad High Court, which rejected it on 14 April 2023. Rafique said it would be taken to the Supreme Court.
Shagufta and her husband Rafique Masih have four children – three sons who were aged 10, 12 and 15 at the time of her arrest and an 18-year-old daughter.
September 2020 Shagufta Kiran allegedly forwarded a blasphemous WhatsApp message.
29 July 2021 Armed Federal Investigation Agency agents raided Shagufta’s home and arrested her. She was interrogated for four days.
2 August 2021 Shagufta was transferred to Rawalpindi’s Adiala Central Jail to await trial – her case hearings have been repeatedly adjourned.
21 March 2023 The Special Judge Central FIA court in Islamabad rejected Shagufta’s bail petition.
14 April 2023 Islamabad High Court rejected Shagufta’s bail petition.
(Asia News, CLAAS-UK, Edge Foundation, Jubilee Campaign, Morning Star News, Premier Christian News, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom)