Pakistani Christian man and wife sentenced to death for text messages sent to Muslim
The case of a Christian couple on death row in Pakistan after being convicted of blasphemy has reportedly been taken up by the lawyer who defended Asia Bibi, The Guardian reports.
Shagufta Kousar and Shafqat Masih were accused of sending blasphemous text messages to a Muslim man. They were sentenced to death, but have appealed to the high court in Lahore.
Lawyer Saiful Malook, who briefly fled Pakistan after receiving death threats when Bibi’s conviction for blasphemy was overturned last October, is to appeal against the couple’s 2014 conviction under the same law.
According to Malook, Kousar is being held in the same cell in which Bibi was imprisoned before being moved into protective custody after her sentence was overturned.
The couple, who have four children, are from Gojra, Punjab province, where Kousar was employed as a cleaner at a church school. A Muslim man in the city complained to officials at his mosque that he was sent blasphemous messages in English on his phone, and the complaint was passed on to the police.
Kousar and Masih were arrested and charged with “insulting the Qur’an” and “insulting the Prophet”.
Musih, who is disabled, admitted sending the messages but later said he his confession was made under duress, as he feared for his wife’s safety.
The couple are illiterate and have argued they could not send text messages in English. They also said the sim card used to send the text messages was bought in Kousar’s name after her identity card was stolen.
“They did not get a fair trial. They are innocent,” Malook told Fox News.
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association which campaigned for Bibi’s release, said Kousar and Masih’s case was part of a “worrying trend of Christians accused for derogatory text messages and social media postings”.
He added: “The simple fact that the couple could not possibly have written the blasphemous text messages due to being hyper-illiterate should result in their immediate release. However in Pakistan primary evidence can often be ignored and worse still manipulated by powerful and wealthy people intent on doing malice.”
Malook fled to the Netherlands in fear for his life after Islamic extremists launched violent protests when Bibi’s conviction was overturned, but later returned to Pakistan.
Bibi, a former farm labourer who spent eight years on death row before being freed, arrived in Canada last week where she was reunited with her family. Her case drew international attention, and two high-profile political figures were assassinated after supporting Bibi and calling for reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Christians make up only 1.59% of Pakistan’s population of more than 200 million, but about half of those accused of blasphemy in the country are non-Muslims.
According to Open Doors, which monitors Christian persecution around the world, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws target Christians in particular.
It said: “The abuses of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are some of the starkest examples of persecution in Pakistan. They have been devastating for minorities, including Christians, who must always act with caution in case an allegation of blasphemy is raised to settle a personal score.”
John Pontifex, from Aid to the Church in Need, said increasing extremism in Pakistan has led to Christians feeling unwelcome unless they abandoned their faith.
“Christians – especially girls – are abused and discriminated in school, in the workplace and in the streets. Some are abducted, raped and forced into marriages. In a court of law, Christians – especially women – have little or no voice and they live daily under the daily threat of blasphemy allegations and violence.”