A Pakistani court has indefinitely adjourned an appeal hearing for a Christian couple who have been on death row since 2014 after being found guilty of blasphemy.
Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, who have been in prison since 2013, were sentenced to death under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws for allegedly sending “blasphemy”, which insulted the Prophet of Islam.
The texts were sent via a SIM card registered in Kausar’s name. However, the couple has denied the allegations and believes the SIM was obtained using a copy of their national identity card.
It’s been six years since their appeal began, and the couple’s family and lawyers have expressed frustration that the retrial has been postponed indefinitely. Saiful Malik, the couple’s lawyer, accused the judge in Islamabad of avoiding hearing the case out of fear, as blasphemy cases are highly controversial and often dangerous for those involved.
A man was shot dead in a Peshawar courtroom in a blasphemy case in July last year, sparking an atmosphere of fear among judges.
“We have not been given a date for the next hearing. The judge delays the case out of fear, but that’s enough. It should be heard. I am afraid for their lives, “said Malik.
“Unless there is political or international pressure, judges in Pakistan will rarely hear blasphemy cases. There is no clear evidence against my clients, and they should have been released long ago.”
According to national and international human rights groups, blasphemy charges in Pakistan are often used to intimidate religious minorities and set personal scores.
Kausar and Emmanuel are being held in two separate jails in different districts of Punjab province. The two are in separate cells, separate from the other prisoners, as there is a fear that they may die if they mix with other prisoners.
People close to the couple are also afraid for their lives. Kausar’s brother, Joseph, who did not want to share his last name and whereabouts, fled to Europe shortly after his arrest when he faced threats.
“My sister-in-law is almost dead physically, because she is paralyzed and unable to move her lower body, and my sister is mentally dead because she has been living alone for six years and she also feels this way. That people can kill him in jail … He is very upset and his hair is coming out.
Joseph said the allegations were false and the couple did not insult the prophet.
“The Maulvi must have made false allegations,” Yusuf said. “Unfortunately, the judges adjourned the hearing. This is a failure of the justice system. The judges leave, they don’t want to hear, while we, the family members, are traumatized and don’t feel safe.
The issue is not isolated. Asad Jamal, a lawyer representing Abdul Samad, who was convicted of blasphemy in 2013, said he had been waiting more than seven years for an appeal to be heard in the courts. Jamal described the justice system as a “disappointing black hole” around blasphemy cases.
“Blasphemy cases are delayed because the judges do not want to hear them and the lawyers do not want to defend the accused,” he said.
Although Pakistan has not executed anyone charged under the blasphemy laws, at least 17 of the country’s blasphemers have been executed. On the death row, Along with several others, are serving life sentences for similar crimes.
Asiya Bibi, a Christian farm laborer accused of blasphemy in a dispute with neighbors, endured a decade-long ordeal in Pakistani prisons. His case sparked an uproar against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and drew international attention to legislation to address his concerns.
There are many similarities between the couple’s case and Bibi, Malik said. The same thing happened with Asiya Bibi, whose case was delayed for a decade and was heard only because of some pressure from Western governments.
“I am sure that without any pressure, Bibi would be behind bars of history. Imagine the level of fear and justice when judges do not want to hear such cases. This fear must end.
Originally sentenced to death in 2010, Bibi’s death sentence was overturned and she was granted political asylum in Canada, where she still receives death threats. In 2011, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were assassinated after drawing attention to the BB case and campaigning for reforms in blasphemy laws.
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