Just days after a Christian man was sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy in Lahore, a trial court in Toba Tek Singh on Friday handed death sentence to an uneducated poor Christian couple accused of texting blasphemous messages to local Muslims in Gojra, Pakistan Today has learnt.
Advocate Nadeem Hassan, who represented Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, in court, told Pakistan Today that Additional Sessions Judge Mian Amir Habib had announced the death sentence under “great pressure” even though the prosecution had failed to present any concrete evidence against the couple.
“Touqir Ashraf advocate and some other Islamist lawyers from Lahore, who were representing the complainants, openly pressurised the judge during the jail trial of the accused. Even on Friday, the complainants’ lawyers kept reciting Quranic verses referring to death for blasphemers, and said that they were willing to become Ghazi Ilamdin Shaheed and Mumtaz Qadri if the judge did not convict the accused,” said Hassan.
The case [FIR No. 407/13] against Shafqat, a 43-year-old crippled man, and his wife Shagufta, a cleaner at a local missionary school, was registered on June 20, 2013 by the Gojra City Police Station under sections 295-B and 295-C of the blasphemy law and 25-D of The Telegraph Act of 1985 which recommends a maximum of three years for intentionally “causing annoyance”.
They were accused of sending blasphemous text messages to the complainants Muhammad Hussain and Tehsil Bar Association President Anwar Mansoor Goraya from a number allegedly registered in the name of Shagufta on June 18, 2013. The couple was taken into custody on June 20 and sent to the Toba Tek Singh District Jail the next day.
“The police failed to recover the SIM [Subscriber Identity Module] allegedly registered in Shagufta’s name from the couple’s possession. The police just produced a receipt of a cellular company on which Shagufta’s national identity card number was written against the number,” the lawyer said, adding that the police had earlier claimed that Hussain’s call data revealed that the messages had been sent from Shagufta’s cell phone number.
Hassan said that during the preliminary investigation Shagufta had told the police that her cell phone had been lost for a month, and that she did not know who might have sent the alleged messages. Nevertheless, the Gojra City Police detained the couple, along with their four minor children, and pressured them to name someone who could have sent the messages.
Hassan said that in order to placate the mobs led by some Islamist clerics, the police forced Shagufta’s husband Shafqat to confess that he had sent the blasphemous messages. “The police tortured Shafqat to confess before a judicial magistrate but the crippled man had retracted his statement when we moved the court to record his statement again,” he said.
Shafqat’s backbone was fractured in an accident in 2004. Since then he has been restricted to a wheelchair due to the paralysis of his lower body. He is also fitted with a catheter. Since his accident, Shagufta has been the only breadwinner for the family’s four children, Ambrose (13), Danish (10), Sarah (7), and Amir (5).
The lawyer said that they would challenge the verdict in High Court once they receive a copy of the detailed verdict.
NOT THE FIRST CASE
At least three other cases have been registered previously against Christians based on blasphemous text messages.
In May 2006, Qamar David was accused of sending blasphemous text messages to various Islamic clerics in Karachi. He was convicted in February 2010 and died in prison on March 15, 2011.
In January 2009, Hector Aleem and Basharat Khokhar were accused of sending text messages that hurt Muslims’ religious sentiment. They were acquitted of the charge on May 31, 2011.
Sixteen-year-old Ryan Stanton was charged with sending blasphemous text messages in Karachi on October 10, 2012. He has fled the country after the family’s home was ransacked by a violent Muslim mob.
Pastor Zafar Bhatti was accused of the same crime on November 11, 2012.
At least two Muslims, Abdul Sattar and Irfan Rafique, have also been charged for sending text messages.
Pakistan has never carried out an execution for blasphemy, which it defines as “the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God.”