Date: June 19, 2019
Christian Couple Charged with Blasphemy Allegations Seeks Hope in High Court
Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern)- International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Lahore High Court in Pakistan has set June 25, 2019 as the next hearing date for Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Masih – a Christian couple that was sentenced to death by a session court in 2014 on a blasphemy allegation.
On July 2013 in Gojra, a town in Faisalabad in northeast Punjab, Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Masih, were accused of sending texts insulting the prophet of Islam to a mosque cleric. Police arrested both husband and wife and charged them under section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code, the section that outlines the blasphemy laws. The district and session court of Toba Tek Singh sentenced the couple with the death penalty on April 4, 2014.
After five years of waiting behind bars, their case will be heard on June 25, 2019 and presided over by Judge Qasim Muhammad Khan in the Lahore High Court.
The accused couple denied the allegations and claimed that the false accusation was meant to punish them over a dispute some eight months before the incident between their children and the children of the mosque cleric. The couple believes that the cleric was able to falsely attain a copy of Shagufta’s national identity card, purchase a mobile sim card and then send the derogatory text messages himself. All Pakistani Christians know the cost of committing blasphemy, and Shagufta has said that she would never do that.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time the family has gone through a painful setback. Shafqat became paralyzed in 2004 and is permanently in a wheelchair. Meanwhile, the couple has three sons and a daughter, who they want to care for but have no option but to rely on relatives to provide for them.
In a conversation with ICC, Nadeem Hassan, the High Court lawyer for the couple said, “There is weak substantial legal evidence against the Christian couple, especially since the police failed to produce the sim card which was reportedly used for circulating the derogatory texts”.
“It is a false accusation against the Christian couple which is based on religious hatred and is being used to settle personal grudges” Hassan added.
Hassan also highlighted that “the mental state of Shafqat has drastically declined since his imprisonment. He also struggles to cope with being paralyzed and living in jail. The court has to consider the effect of keeping physically and mentally disabled victims in jail. It is very obvious that the law requires serious revision and amendments.”
Coincidentally, Shagufta Kausar is in the same cell where Asia Bibi – another Christian falsely accused of blasphemy – stayed in the Central jail of Multan. Asia Bibi was released last month, after ten years in jail, and now lives in Canada.
Hassan recognized the challenge placed before him in the midst of a community that is bitter about Asia Bibi’s release. He said “Asia Bibi’s acquittal will definitely affect the court proceedings.” However, he is committed to doing all he can to ensure that true justice occurs for Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Masih.
ICC’s South Asia Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “ICC is in prayer for Shagufta and Shafqat and their family as they prepare for another court session. The abuse of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws must be curbed. Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minority communities. Without real reform, religious minorities, including Christians, will face more false blasphemy accusations and the extreme violence that often accompanies these accusations.”
HOW TO PRAY: Pray for all false charges against the couple to be dropped. Pray for the freedom of Shagufta and Shafqat. Pray for those who falsely accused the couple to be held accountable.