Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, a Pakistani married couple in their 40s, were sentenced to death for blasphemy in April 2014 after Shagufta allegedly sent blasphemous text messages to a local cleric and a lawyer.
Shafqat is paralysed from the waist down, having fractured his spine in an accident in 2004. He and Shagufta lived with their children in a church compound in Gojra, Punjab Province, and she supported the family by working as a cleaner. They are being held in different prisons about 250 km apart: Shafqat is in Faisalabad District Jail, while Shagufta is in Multan Jail, where Asia Bibi is imprisoned. Shafqat has spent months in hospital because of extremely painful bedsores all over his body.
The text messages were sent in June 2013 from a number allegedly registered in Shagufta’s name. The messages were written in English, but Shagufta and Shafqat have said they could not have written the texts because they are illiterate. They are unable to write proper Urdu, let alone English. They said they lost the phone in question before the texts were sent, and that the SIM card in it was not theirs.
Local police registered a blasphemy case against the couple on the complaint of cleric Muhammad Hussain and lawyer Anwar Mansoor Goraya. Gojra City Police arrested Shagufta and Shafqat on 21 July 2013 and charged them with blasphemy under Sections 295-B (insulting the Koran, punishable by life imprisonment) and 295-C (insulting Mohammad, punishable by death). On 4 April 2014, a sessions court in Toba Tek Singh, Punjab Province, sentenced them to death.
Farrukh Saif of the Farrukh Saif Foundation, an NGO that is defending the couple, said: “There was no evidence that the text messages came from a phone owned by the couple. In the first place they had lost the phone some months before July 2013 and secondly there was no SIM card in their names.”
The couple’s lawyer Nadeem Hassan said, “The police failed to recover the SIM allegedly registered in Shagufta’s name from the couple’s possession… Shagufta had told the police that her mobile phone had been lost for a month, and that she did not know who might have sent the alleged messages.”
The Farrukh Saif Foundation lodged an appeal, but no date has been set.
Lawyer Nadeem Hassan said that to appease mobs led by Islamist clerics, the police tortured Shafqat into confessing before a judicial magistrate that he had sent the messages. He said Shafqat retracted his statement when lawyers requested the session judge to record his statement again.
Shafqat told lawyers that the police tortured him in front of his wife and children, and threatened to torture his wife if he did not confess. He said, “To save my wife, I confessed.”
Throughout the trial, the complainants’ lawyers intimidated the judge by repeatedly proclaiming Quranic references calling for death to blasphemers. Nadeem Hassan said, “Judge Mian Amir Habib was clearly intimidated by advocate Touqir Ashraf and some other Islamist lawyers from Lahore who were representing the complainants. These men kept pressuring the judge during the entire trial, which was conducted in prison due to fears for the couple’s security.”
Shagufta and Shafqat have four children, aged between ten and 15. Their paternal grandfather Emmanuel Masih is caring for them and the Farrukh Saif Foundation is providing education and a safe house. The family lived in Gojra until the time of the blasphemy allegation, but for security reasons the children had to be moved to Toba Tek Singh after huge protests over the incident.
18 June 2013 Blasphemous text messages were sent to a cleric and a lawyer from a phone allegedly registered in Shagufta Kausar’s name.
21 July 2013 Shagufta and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel were arrested and charged with blasphemy.
4 April 2014 A sessions court in Toba Tek Singh, Punjab Province, sentenced Shagufta and Shafqat to death.
6 February 2016 Shafqat filed a petition in the Lahore High Court for bail, pleading: “I have developed bedsores and I may die in jail.” He also said, “There are serious contradictions in witness accounts against me and my wife and we are hopeful of an acquittal on our appeal.”
(Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, Christians in Pakistan, Christian Today, Deccan Chronicle, Farrukh Saif Foundation, Morning Star News, British Pakistani Christians, Reuters, World Watch Monitor)