A Catholic woman held for eight years on death row in Pakistan for false blasphemy allegations said that, despite torture and blackmail, she refused to deny her Christian beliefs.
Shagufta Kausar, arrested in July 2013 with her husband, Shafqat Masih for allegedly sending offensive texts about the Muslim Prophet Mohammad, spoke with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about her eight years on death row.
She said: “In jail, we were tortured. The officers told my husband that if he did not confess, they would rape me in front of him, and so he confessed, even though we were both innocent.
“We were in jail for eight months before a judge found us guilty and sentenced us to death. Our lawyer was not allowed to complete his closing arguments, and neither of us were heard. I fainted when I heard this judgement of death.”
Despite attempts to blackmail her into converting to Islam, Shagufta – who was released with her husband last July – refused.
She said: “Several times I was told that if I converted to Islam my death sentence would be turned into life in prison, and that eventually I would be released. I always said no. The risen Lord Jesus Christ is my life and saviour.
“Jesus Christ sacrificed his life for me though I am a sinner. I will never, ever change my religion and convert to Islam. I would rather be hanged than deny Jesus Christ.”
While Shagufta was on death row in Multan, Punjab, for texts that were sent in English despite neither Shagufta nor Shafqat speaking the language, Asia Bibi was her neighbour.
Ms Bibi was the first woman to be placed on death row in Pakistan, also for alleged blasphemy.
Shagufta said: “Whenever we met, we used to pray together, console each other and renew our firm faith in Jesus Christ. When I heard that Asia was set free, my heart was filled with joy, and I was convinced that one day I too would be released…
“But how unfortunate it is that, just like Asia Bibi, Shafqat and I could not stay in Pakistan with our family and had to get asylum and settle in another country, because fanatic and extremist Muslims were set on killing us if we stayed in Pakistan.”
When Shagufta was first imprisoned, she had three sons aged 13, 10 and seven, and a daughter aged five, who all suffered greatly due to their parents’ captivity.
She said: “They had to keep moving and spent their time hiding from Muslim fundamentalist who threatened to attack them, and only visited me every five or six months, for about 20 to 30 minutes. I cried every day for not being with my children.”
Shagufta praised the work of the international community for pressurising the Pakistani government into setting them free.
She said: “[V]ery strong voices were raised against our unfair trial and sentence…as well as by the Catholic Church, and Aid to the Church in Need.”
With thanks to Father James Channan who carried out the original interview.