Rome Newsroom, Aug 13, 2021 / 05:35 am (CNA).
A Christian couple who spent seven years on death row in Pakistan on false blasphemy charges has been granted asylum in a European country.
According to human rights organization ADF International, Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel arrived in Europe this week after their death sentence was overturned by the Lahore High Court in early June.
The parents of four children said they are “so relieved to finally be free” and are happy to be reunited with their children after a very difficult eight years.
The Christian spouses were released from prison on July 1. The country where they have been granted asylum has not been identified due to security concerns.
“Although we will miss our country, we are happy to finally be somewhere safe. Hopefully, the blasphemy laws in Pakistan will soon be abolished, so others won’t suffer the same fate as Shagufta and I,” Shafqat Emmanuel said.
The couple had faced death threats after news broke of their acquittal and release from death row.
Emmanuel said he and his wife are grateful to ADF International and the Jubilee Campaign, a non-profit organization promoting human rights and religious liberty for minorities, for helping them and bringing them to safety.
“We are delighted that Shagufta and Shafqat have, at long last, been released and have reached safety,” said Tehmina Arora, director of advocacy for ADF International in Asia.
“Sadly, their case is not an isolated incident but testifies to the plight that many Christians and other religious minorities experience in Pakistan today,” she said.
In 2013, the poor Christian couple were living with their children on a mission compound of the Gojra Church in Punjab, Pakistan, when allegedly blasphemous text messages were sent to a cleric and a lawyer from a cellphone allegedly registered in Shagufta Kausar’s name.
Kausar claimed that her phone had been lost for one month at the time the messages were sent.
After he was beaten and threatened that his wife would be stripped of her clothes and forced to walk naked across town, Emmanuel made a false confession.
Despite not knowing how to read or write, and therefore being incapable of sending the messages, Kausar and her husband were arrested and charged with blasphemy on July 21, 2013.
A session court sentenced them to death by hanging. They spent over seven years in prison while they awaited the results of an appeal to the Lahore High Court, which acquitted them of the charges in early June.
Pakistan’s penal code criminalizes speech that insults or defiles the state religion of Islam, but it is often used against religious minorities and many accusations are reportedly false. Pakistan has among the strictest blasphemy laws in the world, as one of only four countries with the death penalty for blasphemy.
Kausar and Emmanuel were defended by attorney Saiful Malook, the same lawyer who worked for Asia Bibi, another Christian wife and mother falsely accused of blasphemy in Pakistan.
Bibi spent eight years on death row before being acquitted in 2018 by Pakistan’s Supreme Court. She was granted refugee status in Canada, where she has lived with her family since May 2019.
Attorney Malook said the judgment in the case of Kausar and Emmanuel is “much, much better in substance than of Asia Bibi’s case.”
ADF International’s Arora said the case’s judgment sets a positive precedent for how electronic evidence should be evaluated, while Malook said they hope more people accused of blasphemy based on text messages will soon be released from prison.
ADF International is a faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes human dignity. It has offices in the United States and Europe.