The High Court in Lahore, Pakistan, acquitted on Thursday, June 3, a Christian couple who were earlier sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
The acquittals ended nearly eight years of legal battle that saw Christian couple Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar jailed separately on death row.
“I am just happy to get justice for this couple,” said Saif-ul-Malook, the couple’s lawyer.
Human rights groups welcomed the decision, saying it put an end to the seven-year long ordeal of the couple “who should not have been convicted nor faced a death sentence in the first place.”
“This case is sadly emblematic of the harassment, intimidation and attacks that those accused of ‘blasphemy’ routinely face,” said Amnesty International in a statement obtained by LiCAS.news.
In a separate statement, the International Christian Concern (ICC) said it remains “deeply concerned for the safety of the Christian couple and their family.”
William Stark, ICC’s regional manager, said extremists in Pakistan “are known to target individuals accused of religious crimes, like blasphemy, even after they have been acquitted.”
“The abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must be curbed, and false allegations must be rooted out and punished,” he said.
Stark said blasphemy laws in the country “have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minorities.”
“Without reform, religious minorities will continue to face false blasphemy accusations and the violence that often accompanies these accusations,” he said.
Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty International’s Asia deputy director, said blasphemy cases “are often premised on flimsy evidence in environments that make fair trials impossible.”
“The authorities must now immediately provide Shafqat, Shagufta, their family and their lawyer Saiful Malook with adequate security,” said Dissanayake.
Shagufta and Shafqat were convicted in 2014 after “blasphemous” texts were allegedly sent from a phone registered to the name of Shagufta.
The couple spent the last seven years in jail waiting to appeal their convictions and death sentences, which are mandatory under Pakistan’s laws.