Multi-Faith Letter to Prime Minister Khan Calling for the Release of Prisoners of Conscience in Pakistan during COVID-19

The Honorable Prime Minister Imran Khan 
Islamic Republic of Pakistan 
Constitution Avenue, G-5/2,  
Islamabad, Pakistan 

Cc: 
The Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi 
Foreign Office Building 
Constitution Avenue,  
Islamabad, Pakistan 

22 May, 2020 

Your Excellency,  

We, the undersigned individuals and organizations, come together from a myriad of religious, ethnic, and political backgrounds to collaborate on issues regarding international religious freedom and human rights. With deepest respect for your influential position as Prime Minister of Pakistan, we would like to collectively call on you to take measures to release prisoners throughout the country in order to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus through the prison and public communities. We would also like to express our appreciation for your efforts so far to tackle the coronavirus by publicly discouraging your citizens from attending large gatherings, considering a nation-wide lockdown and, as of recently, using intelligence technology to track the spread of the virus and individuals who may be at increased risk of spreading or contracting the disease. Your swift efforts are very much necessary. 

We seek your humanitarian intervention. We would like to draw to your attention the case of Pakistani Christian couple Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, who have remained in prison since 2014 over questionable charges. In 2013, Shagufta and Shafqat were accused by a Muslim leader of sending him blasphemous texts written in English from a phone registered in Shagufta’s name. Despite some questionable case details, such as that the couple are illiterate in Urdu, let alone English, and therefore would be unable to send such texts, and the fact that the SIM card of said phone has been unrecoverable, the couple was charged with “insulting the Qur’an” and “insulting the Prophet” and sentenced to death in April of 2014. 

Since their sentencing, the couple has been separated and held in separate prisons, one in Multan and one in Faisalabad, where they have remained for the past five years. Both Shagufta and Shafqat have expressed the depression they face in not being with their children. In an attempt to be absolved of the false charges posed against them, the couple appealed their sentences, and their final verdict was to be read at the Lahore High Court on April 8, 2020. However, due to the untimely outbreak and swift spread of COVID-19, their final decision has been postponed until the coronavirus has been tackled in Pakistan. We find that this is unreasonable, considering that the judge presiding over the case has expressed that the couple’s charges are “dubious” and the couple’s lawyer, Saif ul-Malook, has expressed that he finds it extremely likely that the court will make a favorable decision for Shagufta and Shafqat. 

We ask that you consider the case of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel and release them on humanitarian grounds considering that (1) they were likely to be absolved given the questionable and unprovable nature of their accusations, and (2) that remaining in prison places them at a great risk of contracting COVID-19, which has already been confirmed in some prisons throughout Punjab Province. It is essential to note that Shafqat has remained paralyzed since 2004, when an accident caused him to fracture his spine. This couple are older individuals, and it is a well-known fact that the deadly coronavirus takes advantage of individuals whose health is already compromised due to pre-existing medical conditions. It is unacceptable that Shafqat remains vulnerable in prison without proper medical care when he already suffers from a major disability that would impair his ability to fight off the virus if he should contract it.   

While we hope that you will pay particular attention to the case of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, we also ask that you take into consideration the mass populations within Pakistani prisons and detention facilities some of whom are particularly vulnerable on account of preexisting conditions. In a recent government publication, it was estimated that the number of coronavirus cases in Pakistan could reach 50,000 by April 25th, and recent news reports reveal that the spread has already infiltrated some prison locations. We urge you to follow in the footsteps of the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose government has already preemptively released some 85,000 prisoners temporarily to prevent the overcrowded prisons from becoming saturated with thousands more coronavirus that could be prevented. Specific attention should be focused on the elderly, disabled, unhealthy, and vulnerable. 

We also ask that you consider prisoners of conscience at this time. Should you choose to take measures to release prisoners, we ask that you consider their cases and release permanently and unconditionally such individuals who have been sentenced and imprisoned (1) on false charges, (2) because of their religious practice, worship, and/or teaching, and (3) for their political opinions.  

With greatest appreciation for your endeavors, 

Organizations: 

Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine) 

Center for Pluralism 

Christian Freedom International  

Christian Solidarity Worldwide 

Church of Scientology National Affairs Office 

Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience 

Family Research Council 

Independent Old Catholic Church Office of Ecumenical, Interfaith, and Global Engagement 

Institute for Global Engagement 

Jubilee Campaign  

LYN Community 

Reach Out International 

The Salt & Light Council 

Individuals: 

Fr. John Anderson 

St. Nicholas Freedom Group 

Dr. Fabong Jemchang Yildam 

Chairman 

Plateau State Youth Council 

Farahnaz Ispahani 

Global Fellow 

Woodrow Wilson Center 

Former Member 

National Assembly of Pakistan 

Dede Laugesen 

Executive Director 

Save the Persecuted Christians 

Scott Morgan 

President 

Red Eagle Enterprises 

Rev. Joseph K. Grieboski 

Senior Fellow 

The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute 

William Brown 

Christian Activist Network of New England 

Lela Gilbert 

Senior Fellow 

International Religious Freedom  
Family Research Council 

Paul Pickern  

All Pro Pastors 

Nina Shea 

Director 

Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom 

Elizabeth Yore 

Attorney 

YoreChildren 

Dr. S. Bryan Hickox 

President & CEO 

Bryan Hickox Pictures, Inc.  

Pastor Jonathan Friedt 

Believers’ Fellowship Church 

Gunnery Sergeant Jessie Jane Duff (ret) 

Co-Chairman Advisory Board Veterans for Trump 

Military Advisor Committee on the Present Danger China 

Mike Slotznick 

The America Team for Displaced Eritreans 

Dran Reese 

President 

The Salt & Light Council 

Linda Harvey 

President 

Mission America 

Pastor Greg Young  

Host 

Nationally Syndicated Radio Show 

Chosen Generation Radio 

Kevin Freeman 

Founder 

NSIC Institute 

Dr. Oluwasayo Ajiboye 

Mission Africa International 

Rev. Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso 

Patmos Institute 

Anwar Mehmood 

Ahmadiyya Muslim Community 

Dr. Mike Mohamed Ghouse 

Center for Pluralism 

Kelly Yaegermann 

Dr. Jianli Yang 

Founder and President 

Citizen Power Initiatives for China 

Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ilyas 

Chairman 

International Dialogue Research & Awareness Centre Islamabad Pakistan 

Lauren B. Homer 

Attorney At Law