Pakistani court acquits Christian couple sentenced to death for blasphemy

A Pakistani court has ordered the release of a Christian couple sentenced to death for blasphemy, lawyers say, weeks after the European Parliament stormed the country.

Shafqat Emanuel and Shagufta Kausar were jailed in 2013 and convicted of sending text messages insulting the Prophet Muhammad – although they are both illiterate.

The couple’s lawyer, Saif al-Muluk, said the couple had been acquitted on appeal in the Lahore Supreme Court.

“I am very happy that we were able to secure the release of this couple, one of the most vulnerable people in our society,” Malik said, expecting their release next week following the publication of court orders. ۔

Prosecutor Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa also told AFP that the couple had been acquitted.

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, where anyone found to be blaspheming Islam could face the death penalty and non-controversial charges could lead to mobs and massacres.

Rights activists say the allegations are often made to settle personal disputes.

Kausar and Emmanuel were convicted after receiving a complaint from a shopkeeper who claimed to have seen the text message.

Amnesty International said: “Today’s ruling marks the end of a couple’s seven-year ordeal that should not have been convicted nor was it the first time they have been sentenced to death. Often based on flawed evidence in an environment that makes a fair trial impossible, which underscores the importance of the decision. Must provide adequate security.

In April, the European Parliament voted in a motion condemning Pakistan for failing to protect religious minorities, including Ahmadis, Shiites, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs.

He said dozens of people were currently in jail on blasphemy charges.

“The situation in Pakistan continued to deteriorate in 2020 as the government systematically enforced blasphemy laws and failed to protect religious minorities from abuse,” the resolution said.

It added that the case of Kausar and Emmanuel was of particular concern and called on the authorities to abolish the “immediate and unconditional” death penalty.

Parliament also called for a review of Pakistan’s status as GSP +, which removes import duties from developing countries in exchange for agreements on products coming into the EU, such as human rights and labor rights.

The couple hails from the town of Gojra, west of Lahore, which has a history of violence against the Christian minority.

In 2009, a Christian neighborhood in Gojra was attacked by mobs, burning 77 houses and killing at least seven people following a rumor that a Koran had been desecrated.

Defense lawyer Malik also helped quash the case against Asia Bibi, who drew international attention for being the first Pakistani woman to be executed for blasphemy.

Her death sparked violent protests by religious extremists in 2018 and she later fled to Canada in fear for her life.

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