Responding to the Lahore High Court’s decision to acquit Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel, a Christian couple who were sentenced to death in 2014 for ‘sending blasphemous texts’, Amnesty International’s South Asia Deputy Director Dinushika Dissanayake said:
“Today’s decision puts an end to the seven-year long ordeal of a couple who should not have been convicted nor faced a death sentence in the first place. ‘Blasphemy’ cases are often premised on flimsy evidence in environments that make fair trials impossible, underscoring the significance of this verdict. The authorities must now immediately provide Shafqat, Shagufta, their family and their lawyer Saiful Malook with adequate security.
“This case is sadly emblematic of the harassment, intimidation and attacks that those accused of ‘blasphemy’ routinely face and highlights the urgent need to repeal the law. We hope that the next step will be to swiftly repeal the country’s blasphemy laws that for too long have been used to target Pakistan’s already beleaguered minorities.”
Shagufta and Shafqat were convicted in 2014 after ‘blasphemous’ texts were allegedly sent from a phone registered to the former’s name. They have spent the last seven years in jail waiting to appeal their convictions and death sentences, which are mandatory under Pakistan’s laws.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are overbroad, vague and coercive, enable abuse and violate Pakistan’s international legal obligations to respect and protect human rights, including freedom of religion or belief and of opinion and expression. They have been used to target religious minorities, pursue personal vendettas and carry out vigilante violence. On the basis of little or no credible evidence, the accused struggle to establish their innocence while angry and violent groups of people seek to intimidate the police, witnesses, prosecutors, lawyers and judges.