A Pakistani court ordered the release of a Christian couple sentenced to death for blasphemy, lawyers said, weeks after the European parliament criticized the country over the case.
Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar were jailed in 2013 and convicted of sending a text message insulting the Prophet Muhammad, despite the fact that they are both illiterate.
The couple’s lawyer, Saif ul-Malook, said the couple had been acquitted on appeal in the Lahore high court.
“I am very happy to have been able to obtain the release of this couple who are one of the most defenseless people in our society,” said Malook, who hopes they will be released next week after the court orders are published.
Prosecutor Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa also told AFP that the couple had been acquitted.
Blasphemy is a sensitive subject in Pakistan, where anyone who is deemed to have insulted Islam can face the death penalty, and even unsubstantiated accusations can lead to mob lynchings and vigilante killings.
Rights advocates say the allegations are often made to resolve personal disputes.
Kausar and Emmanuel were convicted following a complaint from a merchant who claimed to have seen the text message.
Amnesty International said: “Today’s decision ends the seven-year ordeal of a couple who should not have been convicted or face the death penalty in the first place. Cases of ‘blasphemy’ are often based on flimsy evidence in settings that make fair trials impossible, underscoring the importance of this verdict. The authorities must now immediately provide Shafqat, Shagufta, their family and their lawyer Saiful ul-Malook with adequate security. “
In April, the European Parliament passed a motion condemning Pakistan for failing to protect religious minorities, including Ahmadis, Shiites, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs.
He said that several dozen people are currently in prison on blasphemy charges.
“The situation in Pakistan continued to deteriorate in 2020 when the government systematically enforced blasphemy laws and failed to protect religious minorities from abuse,” the resolution says.
He added that the case of Kausar and Emmanuel was of particular concern and urged the authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” annul the death sentence.
Parliament also called for a review of Pakistan’s GSP + status, which removes import tariffs on products entering the EU from developing countries in exchange for agreements on issues such as human rights and labor rights.
The couple hails from the city of Gojra, west of Lahore, which has a history of violence against the Christian minority.
In 2009, a mob attacked a Christian neighborhood in Gojra, burning 77 houses and killing at least seven people following rumors that a Koran had been desecrated.
Defense attorney Malook also helped overturn the case against Asia Bibi, who drew international attention for being the first woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy.
His acquittal sparked violent protests by religious hardliners in 2018 and he later moved to Canada in fear for his life.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism