Shagufta and Shafqat

Name: Shagufta Kausar (F) and Shafqat Emmanuel (M)

Country/Area of Origin: Pakistan

Background: Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel are a Pakistani Christian couple who, prior to their arrest, lived with their four young children in a Christian community in Gojra, Punjab. Shagufta has been the sole breadwinner of the family since her husband Shafqat became paralyzed in 2004 following an accident in which he sustained severe damage to his spinal cord.

Reason for Arrest:

In mid-2013, Shagufta and Shafqat were accused by a local Muslim leader, Muhammad Hussain, of sending him a blasphemous text message written in English. After consulting with his lawyer, the two individuals claimed they received a few more similar blasphemous text messages from “a phone allegedly registered in Shagufta’s name.” [Church in Chains].

Police detained Shagufta and Shafqat and charged them with “insulting the Qur’an” and “insulting the Prophet,” otherwise, engaging in blasphemy. In 2014, the couple was sentenced to death by a court in Toba Tek Singh, Punjab. The couple has filed to appeal their charges.

The charges brought against Shagufta and Shafqat are dubious for a number of reasons. Firstly, the phone registered in Shagufta’s name has not been recovered for investigation; secondly, the couple is unable to speak or read English, making it impossible for them to send the alleged texts written in English; lastly, Shagufta and Shafqat have allegedly previously been involved in an argument with their accuser half a year before the accusation was brought against them.

Latest Updates:

  • On 3 June 2021, Justice Syed Shehbaz Rizvi and Justice Anwar-ul-Haq of the Lahore High Court acquitted the charges raised against Shagufta and Shafqat, rescinded the death penalty, and ordered the couple’s release from detention. In response to the acquittal, the couple’s lawyer, Saif ul Malook, stated “I am very happy that we were able to get the release of this couple who are some of the most helpless people in our society.”
    • International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager William Stark, released the following statement regarding the news: “We here at International Christian Concern are happy to see Shafqat and Shagufta finally acquitted after nearly eight years in prison. It is great to see such a prolonged blasphemy case justly resolved. However, we remain deeply concerned for the safety of the Christian couple and their family. Extremists in Pakistan are known to target individuals accused of religious crimes, like blasphemy, even after they have been acquitted. The abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must be curbed, and false allegations must be rooted out and punished. Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minorities. Without reform, religious minorities will continue to face false blasphemy accusations and the violence that often accompanies these accusations.”
    • Amnesty International’s South Asia Deputy Director Dinushika Dissanayake released the following statement: “Today’s decision puts an end to the seven-year long ordeal of a couple who should not have been convicted nor faced a death sentence in the first place. ‘Blasphemy’ cases are often premised on flimsy evidence in environments that make fair trials impossible, underscoring the significance of this verdict. The authorities must now immediately provide Shafqat, Shagufta, their family and their lawyer Saiful Malook with adequate security. This case is sadly emblematic of the harassment, intimidation and attacks that those accused of ‘blasphemy’ routinely face and highlights the urgent need to repeal the law. We hope that the next step will be to swiftly repeal the country’s blasphemy laws that for too long have been used to target Pakistan’s already beleaguered minorities.”
  • On 2 May 2021, Special Aide to Prime Minister on Interfaith Harmony and Middle East, Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, stated in a press conference that multiple religions and schools of thought had rejected the European Union resolution on blasphemy laws. Ashrafi claimed that the EU resolution is baseless and founded on false propaganda, and that no blasphemy cases were recorded in Pakistan within the past six months. Moreover, Ahsrafi claimed that there exists no misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan and that all religious minorities within the nation are satisfied with the laws:
    • “We invite the representatives of the European Union and the US Ambassador for Religious Freedom to visit Pakistan to find out the facts. The protection of minorities’ rights is the responsibility of the state, which it is fulfilling.”
  • On 29 April 2021, the European Parliament of the EU passed a resolution on blasphemy laws in Pakistan, and the particular case of Shagufta and Shafqat. Prior to the voting, Dutch Parliamentarian Peter van Dalen took to the podium to hold up a picture of the couple and plead, “Colleagues, I ask that you take a good look at this photo, because this is the couple in discussion today who are imprisoned in Pakistan.” The adopted resolution includes the following provisions:
    • The European Parliament,”
    • “Expresses its concern for the health and wellbeing of Shagufta and Shafqat Emmanuel and urges the Pakistan authorities to ensure that adequate medical care is immediately provided; calls on the Pakistani authorities to release Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar immediately and unconditionally and to overturn their death sentence;”
    • “Regrets the fact that the appeal of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel keeps being postponed; calls on the High Court of Lahore to deliver its ruling as soon as possible and to give a reasonable explanation for any further postponement;”
    • “Is concerned at the continued abuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan, which is exacerbating existing religious divides and thus fomenting a climate of religious intolerance, violence and discrimination; stresses that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are incompatible with international human rights laws and are increasingly used to target vulnerable minority groups in the country, including Shias, Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians; calls, therefore, on the Government of Pakistan to review and ultimately abolish these laws and their application;”
    • “Urges Pakistan to repeal sections 295-B and C of the national Penal Code and to respect and uphold the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression throughout the country, effectively banishing the use of blasphemy laws;”
  • In February 2021, the couple’s court date for the appeal was once again postponed to the second week of April.
  • Shagufta and Shafqat’s appeal at the Lahore High Court was set for June 22, 2020. The judge however, delayed the couple’s hearing again to September.
  • Due to the spread of COVID-19 the couple’s case was repeatedly postponed earlier as Pakistani courts were closed.
  • The couple’s lawyer, Saiful Malook- who had been the lawyer of Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi who was acquitted of blasphemy charges after a decade in prison- believes that the court’s decision will be favourable to Shagufta and Shafqat.