The Pakistani authorities must immediately and unconditionally release a husband and wife facing death sentences after being convicted of sending ‘blasphemous’ text messages, said Amnesty International, ahead of an appeal hearing in the case at the Lahore High Court today.
Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, who are Christians, have been in prison since 2013 and were convicted and sentenced to death in April 2014 by a Trial Court in Toba Tek Singh. The couple face execution for sending ‘blasphemous’ texts to a mosque cleric insulting the Prophet Mohammad, from a phone containing a sim registered in Shagufta’s name. Both deny the allegations and believe that the sim was obtained by someone using a copy of her National Identity Card.
“The mandatory death sentences for Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel are emblematic of the dangers faced by the country’s religious minorities as long as the blasphemy laws remain in place. They have been in prison for the better part of eight years waiting for their appeal hearing, when they should not be in jail in the first place. We call for their immediate and unconditional release,” said Samira Hamidi, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for South Asia.
“The Government of Pakistan must urgently repeal its blasphemy laws that have been flagrantly abused and caused an immeasurable amount of harm.”
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are incompatible with international human rights laws, overly broad, vague and coercive. They have been used to target religious minorities, pursue personal vendettas, and carry out vigilante violence. Judges, fearing reprisals if they do not deliver the harshest sentences, often fear for their lives when adjudicating blasphemy cases.
The couple’s appeal was due to be heard in April 2020 but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. At their last hearing, on 15 February 2021, the judges left the court as they were due to hear the appeal.
There has been an alarming uptick in “blasphemy” accusations in Pakistan over the last year, with accusations brought against artists, human rights defenders and journalists.
Amnesty International is calling for the full repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Of further concern is the automatic and mandatory imposition of the death penalty, prohibited under international human rights law and standards. The mandatory death penalty does not allow judges the possibility of taking into account the personal circumstances of the defendant or the circumstances of the particular offence; and the use of this punishment for crimes that do not meet the “most serious crimes” threshold, meaning intentional killing.