A Pakistani couple that has been on death row for seven years after being convicted of blasphemy charges was surprisingly acquitted last week according to their lawyer.
Shafqat Emmanuel, 52, and his wife Shagufta Kausar, 49, were convicted in 2014, "of sending blasphemous text messages insulting the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, to a local imam and the then-president of the local bar council from a phone number registered in Kausar’s name," according to Morning Star News.
They were charged under Sections 295-B (insulting the Koran, punishable by life imprisonment), 295-C (insulting Muhammad, punishable by death) and 25-D of The Telegraph Act of 1985. Section 25-D recommends a maximum of three years for intentionally “causing annoyance.”
The Lahore High Court (LHC) acquitted the couple on June 3, a move that caught even their lawyer off guard.
“It came as a surprise to me, because the LHC had been delaying the hearing for over six years on one pretext or the other,” Malook told Morning Star News. “I believe that the hearing was expedited due to international pressure on the Pakistani government, particularly a resolution passed by the European Union Parliament in April which called for a review of the GSP+ status granted to Pakistan in view of an ‘alarming’ increase in the use of blasphemy accusations in the country.”
The EU resolution specifically mentioned the couple's case and pointed out that “The evidence on which the couple were convicted can be considered deeply flawed.” It also stated that the couple had argued with the accuser shortly before he came forward with the accusations. The resolution says that the couple was tortured into making a confession.
The couple's lawyer also helped Asia Bibi win an aquital in 2018 of similar false blasphemy charges. Malook says that most of the country's blasphemy charges "were rooted in personal vendettas," Morning Star News writes. "It’s unfortunate that innocent people are forced to rot in jails for years on false accusations of blasphemy,” he said. “This practice needs to stop now. The charge is so serious that even judges are fearful of conducting hearings and giving decisions on merit.”