June 3rd, 2021
By Ahmed Saeed
In another groundbreaking verdict, the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday, June 3, acquitted Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar of blasphemy. The Christian couple has been languishing in jail on death row since 2014.
A division bench of the LHC compromising Justice Syed Shahbaz Ali Rizvi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh heard the petitions filed by the couple through their counsel Saif-ul-Malook. The detailed verdict will be released in the next few days, after which Shafqat and Shagufta will be released from prison.
The couple was sentenced to death in 2014 by a Toba Tek Singh Additional District and Sessions Court for sending blasphemous text messages to a neighbour. However, the couple denied owning the SIM from which the texts were sent and furthermore the police were unable to retrieve said SIM.
“During proceedings, the police produced a witness from the mobile phone franchise who, prior to his appearance in court, stated that he had sold the SIM card to Shafqat who alone arrived at his shop. However, upon appearing before the magistrate, the witness changed his statement and alleged Shafqat and his wife Shagufta Kausar purchased the SIM card from him — the number was registered under Shagufta’s name while Shafqat footed the bill,” advocate Saif-ul-Malook told Voicepk.net in a file interview.
Malook also represented Aasia Bibi in the Supreme Court of Pakistan and successfully got her acquitted in 2018. After getting to know about the couple’s ordeal, Malook decided to fight their appeals against their conviction pro bono.
But their case was tossed between different benches of the high court with no or little progress. This was quite depressing for Saif-ul-Malook, as he was very concerned about the couple’s deteriorating health while in prison.
Shafqat’s body is marred with deep wounds while bedsores have eaten away all the flesh from his back. Despite his myriad ailments, he has yet to be taken to a hospital for any sort of treatment. Amnesty International issued an alert regarding the disabled man’s deteriorating condition at the Faisalabad Central Jail, and penned a letter to the Inspector General of Prisons as did Malook, but nothing came of it.
The couple’s case was highlighted in the European Parliament which adopted a resolution for a review of Pakistan’s preferential trade status with the European Union (EU) and an end to its eligibility for the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) Plus.
The resolution, which had been passed with an overwhelming majority of 662 to 3 in the European Parliament, linked the call for review to Pakistan’s abuse of blasphemy laws especially with regards to the case of Shafqat and his wife Shagufta.
According to the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom, about 80 individuals are serving a life sentence or are on death row for allegedly committing blasphemy in Pakistan.
Although blasphemy laws are colonial-era legislation, they were amended during the regime of former dictator General Zia-ul-Haq which increased the severity of prescribed punishments. Since then, about 2,000 people (ironically most of them Muslims) have been charged with blasphemy under the amended law.