The non-profit human rights organization Amnesty International is urging the Pakistan government to release a Christian husband and wife, who have been in prison since 2014 for allegedly sending "blasphemous" text messages, and are awaiting death sentences after their appeal was delayed.
Christian couple Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel are facing blasphemy charges in Pakistan, where the punishment for their alleged crime of sending "blasphemous texts" is death penalty. The pair were imprisoned in 2013 and were found guilty by a court in April 2014 in Toba Tek Singh. According to Independent, the pair have been waiting on death row since.
The Christian couple accused of sending "blasphemous texts'' in Pakistan were allegedly sending messages to a mosque cleric containing insults to the Prophet Mohammad. These messages originated from a phone containing the SIM card registered to Kausar, but the pair deny any involvement and believe that the SIM card was purchased by someone else who had obtained her national identity card.
Amnesty International is now calling upon the Pakistan government to release the pair.
According to The Guardian, six years have passed since the Christian couple's first appeal was launched However, the court kept delaying the hearing, which was most recently set for April 2020. It was once again delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Christian couple's lawyer, Saiful Malook, was critical of the Islamabad judge assigned to the case, saying that the judge was "avoiding hearing the case out of fear" as blasphemy cases are "highly controversial and often dangerous" for those involved.
Malook insisted, "Judges in Pakistan will rarely hear cases of blasphemy until there is political or international pressure. There is no substantive proof against my clients, and they should have been released long ago."
The Christian couple accused of sending "blasphemous texts" in Pakistan are being kept in two separate prisons in different Punjab province districts. They are confined to isolated cells, away from other prisoners who may harm them.
The couple's families are also reportedly feeling the stress and pressures of the lengthy prosecution process. Some of their relatives have already fled for Europe for fear of their safety. Amnesty International is now stepping in to push for the release of Kausar and Emmanuel so they can finally safely reunite with their families.
In line with the Christian couple's persecution, Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for South Asia Samira Hamidi criticized Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws, which have caused cases of violence and unjust executions.
He said, "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. The Government of Pakistan must urgently repeal its blasphemy laws that have been flagrantly abused and caused an immeasurable amount of harm."
Amnesty International believes that Pakistan's blasphemy laws have long been used to "target religious minorities, pursue personal vendettas, and carry out vigilante violence." Judges and lawyers are afraid of defending the accused for fear of persecution themselves.