“As the joyous news of Christian Asia Bibi’s release from jail hit the waves” there is another worrying case: “the plight of a Christian Pakistani couple who have also been facing execution in a Pakistan prison for five years.”
The couple, Shagufta Kousar and Shafqat Masih, stated that “the motive behind the allegations” of blasphemy against them was that their accusers “wanted revenge after a minor quarrel that took place between their children and their neighbours 6 months prior.”
Accusations of blasphemy against Christians are routine and are taken on the word of Muslims who often lie as revenge during a dispute. Their word being automatically taken as truth shows the inferior status of Christians in Pakistan.
False accusations of blasphemy are merely a means to subjugate and persecute Christians. Fake evidence is also sometimes planted against Christians. For example, a village cleric planted pages of the Quran among burnt pages in the bag of a Christian girl and then pinned the blamed the girl. She is now being held in prison for blasphemy amid threats of violent mobs trying to kill her. The clerics own act of desecrating the Quran but setting up the young girl caused 600 Christians to flee for their lives to escaped enraged Muslims. As for rest of the girl’s family; they will never be able to return to their home village and will remain in hiding indefinitely.
Shafqat Misih is currently paralysed from the waist down following an accident in 2004 when he fractured his spine and is also suffering from depression. Moreover painful sores that he has developed since his incarceration are causing a rapid decline in his health which could lead to a premature death.
After Asia Bibi’s blasphemy death sentence was overturned, Pakistani Christians feared even greater persecution and more violence against them. The case of Bibi became high profile in the media with over 400-thousand people globally signing a petition for her to be released, but let us not forget the countless other Christians in Pakistan who are rotting away in cloistered Pakistani jail cells under harsh conditions.
Pakistan ranks fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors 2019 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Shagufta Kousar and Shafqat Masih were sentenced to death on 4th April 2014 following a court trial where they were accused of sending blasphemous text under Islamic law to a Muslim man. Now Shagufta is imprisoned at Multan Jail and Shafqat is 150 miles away at Faisalabad District Jail both have have not seen each other since their incarceration and are exhibiting signs of severe depression.
The couple, believed to be in their late 30’s, hail from the city of Gojra from the Punjab province. They led a simple life and were living with their four young children in a church compound. Shagufta was employed as a cleaner and servant at the local church school.
On 18th July 2013, Muhammad Hussain, a Muslim, complained to his Mosque clerics about a blasphemous text that he had allegedly received on his phone whilst praying and whilst seeking legal advice, he claimed to have received more.
Despite Shagufta and Shafqat being illiterate and unabke to text in English or having an understanding of alphanumeric symbols, local police registered a blasphemy case following the complaint of a cleric. This resulted in the couple being arrested on 21st July 2019 under charges of both “insulting the Koran” and “insulting the Prophet.”
The police had obtained confessions from Shafqat which both defendants claim was given under duress. Shafqat has stated to his previous lawyer fighting his case at Toba Tek Singh District Court “To save my wife, I confessed,”
The couple have appealed the sentence at district court level on the grounds that the witnesses produced by the prosecution during the trial were related to the complainant and were therefore inimical towards the couple. The appeal stated: ‘Their statements require independent corroboration, which is lacking in this case.”
Furthermore, evidence exists that Judge Mian Amir Habib, who sentenced the couple to capital punishment, was intimidated by hardline lawyers and religious leaders in the community.
Shagufta, a caretaker at St John Girls High School, Gojra said that her National Identity Card was stolen by a friend of Mr. Hussain who had used it to purchase a SIM card in her name that was then used to send the text messages which the prosecution denies.
Both Shagufta and Shafqat are arguing against their conviction on the basis that there is no evidence that they purchased the SIM involved and adding that as they are both illiterate, could not have possible sent the messages which were written in English.
The couple have also stated that the motive behind the allegations made by Mr. Hussain was that he wanted revenge after a minor quarrel that took place between their children and their neighbours 6 months prior.
Please sign Petition to End Pakistani Blasphemy Laws (click here)