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Christian couple on Pakistan death row appeal for freedom

Pakistani authorities have rescheduled the already delayed court hearing for the appeal of a Christian couple convicted and sentenced to death over blasphemy charges. 

Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife, Shagufta Kausar, have been in jail for six years while waiting for their appeal to reverse their death sentence.

The Lahore High Court has rescheduled the supposed final hearing on June 3 to June 22.

In 2013, Maulvi Mohammed Hussain, a religious leader in Gojra in Punjab province, accused the couple of sending blasphemous text messages insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan.

Although, no one has ever been executed for “hurting religious feelings,” many have been killed by the mob after being accused of it.

Pakistani authorities arrested the couple on July 21, 2013, after Hussain charged them with “insulting the Koran” and “insulting the prophet.”

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The wife was a caretaker in a Christian school while her husband is partially paralyzed.

In a BBC report, Joseph, the brother of Shagufta, said it was impossible for the couple to commit such allegations because they are both illiterate.

The alleged blasphemous text messages were written in English, a language that the couple is not familiar with.

Joseph also claimed that Shafqat has suffered a broken leg after being tortured by the police forcing him to make false confessions.

Lawyer Saif ul Malook, who represents the couple, said judges are “fearful” to acquit suspected blasphemers because extremists will go after them.

Malook, who won the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was also sentenced to death because of blasphemy, said the evidence against the couple was “deeply flawed.”

The lawyer claimed that the couple has been framed by a Christian neighbor they had argued with by purchasing a SIM card under Shagusta’s name and sent the messages.

The Christian Post quoted Will Stark, regional manager for South Asia at the International Christian Concern, saying Shafqat’s medical condition “has deteriorated significantly during his imprisonment.”

“This is because the jail does not provide facilities for him, as someone partially paralyzed. Bedsores and lack of nutrition are definitely issues I have seen reported,” he said.

Stark said the couple’s children are still in hiding and “they live in fear that their parents’ blasphemy accusation may cause extremists to attack them.”

Muslims constitute 96 percent of Pakistan’s total population while Christians make up only 1.6 percent.

According to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List, Pakistan is fifth in the world’s worst country when it comes to Christian persecution.

In 2018, the U.S. State Department named Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom violations.

There are more than 70 countries across the world that have laws prohibiting blasphemy or “harming religious feelings.”

Blasphemy is defined as speaking insultingly about a particular religion or god.

In 2017, the U.S. Library of Congress listed 77 countries that have laws “criminalizing blasphemy, defaming religion, harming religious feelings, and similar conduct.”

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