Introduction: The Regular Abuse of Pakistan’s Controversial Blasphemy Law :
Blasphemy laws have always been a controversial subject for discussion in Pakistan. These laws have put hundreds of members of minority communities behind bars. It has commonly been observed that section 295- A/B/C of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has been badly misused by the majority community.
Even discussion and dialogue in relation to this controversial law has taken the lives of two prominent Pakistani politicians, Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer and Christian Minister Shahbaz Bhatti. Both were assassinated in broad daylight in the capital of Pakistan. Similarly, many of the victims of these laws were killed in court rooms, jails or in lockups by the extreme elements of Pakistani society.
Since 2009, Keith Davies and Farrukh Saif have been defending the victims of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. During that time, we have found that, in nearly all cases, people had been falsely and even maliciously accused. In some cases, the accusations were solely the result of personal vendettas or rumor mongering.
The Pakistani government has failed to provide security to such victims or to the communities in which they live. The government may be trying to handle these matters diligently, but it is not handling them effectively. Radicalism in society has reached new and frightening levels and matters regularly spiral out of control and result in vicious acts of mob justice. Many times, it has been observed that law enforcement agencies, and even the institutions charged with delivering justice, have failed in their duty to provide justice due to the enormous pressure that is applied by vociferous and aggressive extremist elements. The atmosphere of intimidation and fear within Pakistan is palpable!
Recently, when Asiya Bibi was acquittal by the Apex Court of Pakistan on 31st October 2018 the entire country was on fire. The extremist element of Pakistani society is still demanding the arrest and hanging of Asiya Bibi.
Similarly like Asiya Bibi, there is another case of blasphemy law which seriously needs international attention. This is the case of Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagfuta Kausar . This case is fixed for hearing in the High court of Lahore from the 16th January 2019. Different Islamic organizations and groups are pressuring the court to maintain the death sentence awarded by the session court in April, 2014.
The details of the case of Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagfuta Kausar:
On 20th July 2013, a Christian couple, Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagfuta Kausar, from Gojra City in Pakistan’s Punjab province, were of accused of sending blasphemous text messages and were subsequently arrested. The text messages were written in English, but both of the accused were uneducated and incapable of writing proper Urdu, let alone English.
Even though the local police knew this and even though they knew that Shafqat is confined to a wheelchair due to an accident in 2004 that resulted in suffering a spinal injury and causing him to be paralyzed below the chest, the local police proceeded to torture him in front of his wife and children. He pleaded for mercy while the police continued in their attempts to extract a confession from him.
Even under these extreme conditions the police failed in their efforts to extract a confession from him. In response to this, they changed their approach. They told him, in no uncertain terms, that if he did not confess, they would strip his wife naked and parade her through the streets of Gojra City. Under such extreme duress Shafqat, a good and faithful husband, felt forced to admit to an offense that he had not committed. As a decent and thoughtful husband, he was not willing to risk the honor and physical safety of his wife!
The Gojra City Police in Punjab charged the couple with blasphemy under Sections 295-B (insulting the Koran, punishable by life imprisonment), 295-C (insulting Muhammad, punishable by death) and 25-D of The Telegraph Act of 1985 – Section 25-D. The complainants, Muhammad Hussain and Gojra Tehsil together with Bar Association President Advocate Anwar Mansoor Goraya did their best to destroy the lives of these innocent Christians. On 4th April 2014, this uneducated couple were given death sentences for sending a text message in English, a language which they were incapable of writing.
The police failed to recover from the couple house any mobile phone or SIM card allegedly registered in Shagufta’s name. The only evidence produced by the local police was the receipt from the phone company which stated that the SIM card used for sending these messages was in Shafqufta’s name. It is well known that until July 2015, it was very common in Pakistan to purchase a SIM card by submitting a national identity card. During the prosecution, our legal team demanded that the police and prosecuting lawyers present a record of the data from the cell phone but they failed to do so. Even the cell phone company denied that they had such data.
In additional court sessions Judge Mian Amir Habib succumbed to Islamist pressure and handed down the death sentence, even though there was no evidence against the couple. The Judge was completely intimidated by advocate Touqir Ashraf and some other extremist lawyers, who were representing the complainants. These men kept pressuring the judge during the entire trial. The whole trial was concluded inside the boundary walls of the prison due to fears for the couple’s security. Even on the day of the final arguments the complainants’ lawyers kept proclaiming Koranic references that called for death to blasphemers. Even the prosecuting attorneys told the Judge that, if he will not give them the death sentence, they were ready to become Ghazi, like Ilamdin Shaheed and Mumtaz Qadri, if the judge did not convict them both.
Despite the lack of evidence against the couple and in the presence of obvious intimidation against the proceedings of the court, the judge handed down a death sentence to this couple! This whole episode demonstrates clearly and incontrovertibly how easy it is for anyone in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to persecute any member of any minority group by using this law. Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar are clearly the victims of what can only be referred to as kangaroo court justice.
The Plight of the Children of Shafqat and Shagfuta
It is bad enough that the police tortured a half-dead man with a spinal injury, to confess that he had sent the blasphemous text message. What is even worse than that terrible abuse is the impact on his children. Since his accident in 2004, his wife Shagufta has been the only breadwinner for the family’s four children, Zain –18, Danish – 15, Yeshua – 13 and Sarah – 12.
How can a society be so cruel under conditions of trumped-up charges, insufficient evidence and obvious intimidation and interference in the judicial process to find these parents of four children guilty? How can a society condemn their four children to live without parents as they grow up?
The children are currently living in our safe house but without their parents. We would appreciate if you would consider helping us with their support.
With poor prison conditions for a man who is clearly struggling and unwell, Shafqat is regularly getting sick with the bed sores and recently 16 blood bottles were used to control his PH level. He cannot go to the washroom nor do anything without assistance. It is so difficult for a paralyzed man to handle all his personal issues while in jail.
Since the beginning of this case, our partner Farrukh Saif Foundation (previously known as World Vision in Progress) has been protesting against the attitude of the Lower Court. We have submitted the application in the High Court that the Additional Session judge had already made up his mind in advance to give death sentence to the couple. The High Court of Lahore referred our petition with the direction to expedite the matter.
We would request that the international community and people of all nations speak out against this terrible and cruel injustice. We especially request that people pray for Shafqat and Shagufta.
As the court reconsiders its previous verdict on appeals our organization has made on behalf of the couple. We would appreciate your prayers and financial support so we can continue to fight for justice for these poor people.
 Ilamdin Shaheed is admired as a hero by many Muslims for killing a Hindu publisher, Mahasay Rajpal, who published a book considered blasphemous against the Prophet of Islam in 1924.
 Mumtaz Qadri was a police guard who gunned down Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer, because of his support to Asiya Bibi and for his views on the country’s controversial blasphemy laws. Recently Qadri was hanged in the Aadala Jail in Rawalpindi, but is still a hero to millions of Muslims across Pakistan.