A Christian couple released from death row in Pakistan after being acquitted of “blasphemy” have arrived safely in Europe, where they have been granted asylum.
Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife Shagufta Kausar (also known as Shagufta Masih) received death threats after Lahore High Court upheld an appeal against their 2014 conviction in June 2021. The couple, who have four children, were falsely accused of sending “blasphemous” text messages, despite the fact that both are illiterate.
“We are so relieved to be free,” said Shafqat, who is disabled. “The last eight years have been incredibly hard, but we are so happy to be reunited with our children.”
They will miss their country, they said, but are happy finally to be in a safe place. “Hopefully, the blasphemy laws in Pakistan will soon be abolished so others won’t suffer the same fate as Shagufta and I,” added Shafqat.
The couple were sentenced to death in April 2014 under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s Penal Code which, since a constitutional court decision in 1991, has stipulated a mandatory death sentence for “defiling the name” of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.
In May 2021 the European Parliament drew attention to the plight of Shafqat and Shagufta, noting the lack of evidence with which to sustain their convictions.
Pakistan’s notorious “blasphemy” laws are often used to make false accusations in order to settle personal grudges. Christians are especially vulnerable, as simply stating their beliefs can be construed as “blasphemy” and the lower courts usually favour the testimony of Muslims, in accordance with sharia (Islamic law).
Accusations frequently trigger mob violence and even killings. Christians acquitted of allegations live in fear of attack by zealous Muslim extremists and often can no longer return to live in their homes.