ucanews.com reporter, LahoreUpdated: June 11, 2019 09:19 AM GMT
Pakistani Islamists hold a poster displaying the portrait of Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman accused of blasphemy, during a protest in Lahore on Feb. 1 against the Supreme Court's decision to overturn her conviction. (Photo by Arif Ali/AFP)
A Pakistani high court is to hear the appeal of a Christian couple who have been on death row since 2014 for insulting the Prophet Muhammad, their lawyers confirmed.
Lawyer Saiful Malook, who successfully defended Catholic woman Asia Bibi and had her blasphemy conviction overturned in the Supreme Court, will also contest the charges against the couple in Lahore High Court.
Disabled Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife Shagufta Kausar were arrested in 2013 and sentenced to hang in Toba Tek Singh town of Punjab province in addition to a fine of 200,000 rupees (US$2,000) after being accused of sending text messages insulting the prophet.
Sentencing went ahead despite it transpiring that a SIM card presented as evidence by police was bogus.
The case was filed by Mohammed Hussain, a prayer leader in Gojra who alleged that the couple had sent religiously offensive text messages to him and other Muslims.
The couple pleaded their innocence, maintaining they were illiterate and could not write the text messages that were written in English. They also said that the SIM card used to send the alleged messages was bought using Kausar’s stolen identity card.
“A division bench of the high court will hear our appeal on June 25,” Malook told ucanews.com. “I have met Shagufta Kausar, who is lodged in the same cell where Asia Bibi was imprisoned before her acquittal.”
Blasphemy laws have been grossly abused by many people lodging false complaints to settle personal vendettas, according to Pakistan’s independent human rights body.
In many cases, blasphemy allegations result in mob lynching or targeted killing of the accused before they can be tried in a court of law, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said in its 2018 report.
Even if the accused are found innocent by a court, they are unable to lead a normal life for fear of threats from extremists or a social boycott, it noted.
According to the HRCP, minorities are still on the receiving end of discrimination despite legislation being enacted. Although no one has yet been hanged for blasphemy, many victims languish in jail for decades before being acquitted.
According to HRCP figures, 18 new blasphemy cases were filed across Pakistan in 2018 alone.
Since 1990, close to 70 people have been lynched on blasphemy charges, while another 40 are on death row or serving a life sentence.