The Lahore High Court in Pakistan issued a 26-page decision acquitting a Catholic mother and her partially paralyzed husband who had been sentenced to death for seven years after a lower court convicted them of sending blasphemous text messages.
The high court issued the judgment last week, weeks after overturning the session court’s death sentence for the couple, Shagufta Masih and her husband, Shafqat Emmanuel, who was the watchman of a school in the Gojra area of Toba Tek Singh district in Pakistan’s Punjab Province, expressing displeasure with the trial’s conduct, according to The News International.
The Catholic couple was arrested in July 2013 under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and they were sentenced to death by hanging by a session court in 2014.
“This case exemplifies the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws,” said Tehmina Arora, Asia director of ADF International, which is assisting the couple.
According to Arora, the acquittal is a “significant step forward for religious freedom in Pakistan.”
“We hope it will set a precedent by demonstrating how evidence in blasphemy cases must be evaluated,” she added.
“Shagufta and Shafqat are ecstatic to have finally been acquitted of these baseless blasphemy charges,” said the couple’s lawyer, Saif Ul Malook. “The numerous delays in hearing their appeal caused them a great deal of pain. Due to the concern for security, these cases are extremely difficult to litigate.
“We are disappointed that the learned additional sessions judge decided the case in haste… “The appellants are acquitted of the charge,” the judgment states.
Masih was held in the same prison as Asia Bibi, another woman accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death for eight years before being acquitted in 2018.
The couple’s appeal was accepted and heard after the European Parliament passed a resolution on April 29 calling on Pakistani authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta [Masih] and to overturn their death sentence.”
In 2013, the couple was accused of blasphemy by a local imam after sending him an offensive text message.
Maulvi According to Mohammed Hussain, a leader at a nearby mosque, Emmanuel used his wife’s cellphone to send an anti-Islamic text message. He later claimed that he received additional messages. Hussain stated that he was praying when he received the threatening text message from an unknown number.
Before approaching his counsel for legal action, the Muslim cleric reportedly showed the text message to two other imams. Later, he and his lawyer claimed to have received blasphemous messages.
Joseph Masih, Masih’s brother, previously told the BBC that his brother-in-law had been tortured and coerced into making a false confession.
The text messages were allegedly written in English as well. Shafqat and Shagufta, in addition to being illiterate, are unfamiliar with the English language, both written and spoken.
The couple’s lawyer, who also assisted in Asia Bibi’s blasphemy appeal, previously stated that the charges leveled against Masih and Emmanuel were “deeply flawed” and “weaker” than those leveled against Bibi.
Despite the fact that the phone was registered in Masih’s name, Malook told the BBC that “in their trial, they suggested that a Christian neighbor with whom they had argued might have purchased a SIM card in Masih’s name and sent the messages in order to frame them.”
Christians are frequently targeted by Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Christians are frequently targeted, both by blasphemy laws intended to protect Islamic sensibilities and by hardliners who carry out violence and have killed dozens of believers in recent years.
The blasphemy law, which is found in Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, is frequently used for personal vengeance. It makes no provision for the punishment of a false accuser or false witness of blasphemy.
Extremist Islamists also use the law to target religious minorities such as Christians, Shias, Ahmadiyyas, and Hindus.