Christian couple get death sentence for blasphemy

Their lawyer said text message originated from a cell phone, which the couple had lost some time before the incident.

April 07 2014, 7:20 PM
Christian couple get death sentence for blasphemy
Soldiers guarding a Church in Multan, Pakistan

A court in eastern Pakistan has sentenced a Christian couple to death for sending a ‘blasphemous’ text message to the imam of the local mosque.

Judge Mian Amir Habib on Friday handed the death sentence to Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar held on blasphemy charges in a jail in the town of Toba Tek Singh.

Maulvi Mohammad Hussain, the prayer leader at a local mosque in Gojra, lodged a complaint against the couple on July 21 last year for sending him a text message which he said was insulting to Prophet Mohammed. Hussain accused the husband of sending the message from his wife’s mobile phone.

The couple's lawyer Nadeem Hassan said that the text originated from a cell phone which the couple had lost some time before the incident, so they could not have sent the message. He said that the trial had not been conducted fairly and would appeal against the sentences.

The couple belong to the town of Gojra, which has a history of violence against Christians, Hassan said.

Gojra in Punjab was the scene of communal violence in 2009. The rumoured desecration of a copy of the Koran had led to a mob burning nearly 40 houses and a church in Gojra. At least eight members of Christian community died in the violence.

Pakistan has a de facto moratorium on the death penalty so it is unlikely the couple will be executed.

The couple, who have three children, are very poor. Shafqat is physically challenged and Shagufta was the only earning member.  

Allegations of blasphemy against Islam are taken very seriously in Pakistan. Several recent cases have prompted international concern about the application of blasphemy laws.

In 2012, the arrest of a mentally challenged Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, on blasphemy charges provoked international outrage. After being detained in a high security prison for several weeks she was eventually released and her family subsequently fled to Canada.

Rights activists argue that Pakistan's blasphemy laws are frequently misused to settle personal scores and members of minority groups are often unfairly targeted.

Since the 1990s, scores of Christians have been convicted for desecrating the Koran or blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammed. While most of them have been sentenced to death by the lower courts, many sentences have been overturned due to lack of evidence.