After seven years on death row, Pakistani couple is acquitted of blasphemy charges

A CHRISTIAN COUPLE IN PAKISTAN ON DEATH ROW FOR SEVEN YEARS, have been acquitted in a landmark judgment. Shagufta Kausar and her husband, Shafqat Masih, from the Punjab town of Gojra, were sentenced to death in 2014 for allegedly sending a local imam blasphemous text messages insulting the Muslim Prophet Mohammad.

But June 3rd in the Lahore High Court, Justice Syed Ali Rizvi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh acquitted the couple on appeal.

Immediately after the judgment, the couple’s lawyer, Khalil Tahir Sandhu, told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which supports legal efforts on behalf of Christians charged under the country’s blasphemy law : “I have to confess that after the justices had given their verdict I wept. “There were times when I wondered if, after so long, justice would ever prevail in this case.”

Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Masih

He said that, after hearing the arguments, the justices noted what they called “inconsistencies” in the case against the couple. Mr. Tahir said the judges disputed the validity of evidence given against the couple and questioned who owned the SIM card in the mobile phone allegedly used to make the supposedly offensive remarks.

He praised the justices’ courage, making the judgement in the face of opposition from more than 30 extremists who packed the courtroom and had gathered outside, hoping the couple’s appeal would fail.

The lawyer said: “The case against Shagufta and Shafqat was always weak. Who is responsible for it taking eight years for justice to win through?” He said extremists would continue to demand the couple be killed and that the two would be forced to stay in hiding unless they could start a new life in a country in the West.

Mr. Tahir said the couple were not in court to hear the judgment but that immediately afterwards he contacted the authorities at the two jails where they have been held to pass on the news. Mr. Tahir said Shagufta has been held in the same 4ft by 6ft cell in Multan Women’s Jail formerly occupied by Asia Bibi, another Christian woman, whose blasphemy conviction was overturned on appeal in October 2018.

—John Pontifex