A Christian couple in Pakistan on death row for seven years, have today (Thursday, 3rd June) been acquitted in a landmark judgement.
Shagufta Kausar and her husband, Shafqat Masih, from the Punjab town of Gojra, were sentenced to death in 2014 for allegedly sending a local imam blasphemous text messages insulting the Muslim Prophet Mohammad.
But in Lahore High Court today Justice Syed Ali Rizvi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh acquitted the couple on appeal.
Immediately after the judgement, the couple’s lawyer, Khalil Tahir Sandhu, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which campaigns for persecuted Christians: “I have to confess that after the justices had given their verdict I wept.
“There were times when I wondered if, after so long, justice would ever prevail in this case.”
He said that, after hearing the arguments, the justices noted what he called “inconsistencies” in the case against the couple.
Mr Tahir said the judges disputed the validity of evidence given while the couple were in handcuffs and questioned who owned the sim in the mobile phone allegedly used to make the supposedly offensive remarks.
He praised the justices’ courage, making the judgement in the face of opposition from more than 30 extremists who packed the courtroom and outside, hoping the couple’s appeal would fail.
Mr Tahir said: “The case against Shagufta and Shafqat was always weak. Who is responsible for it taking eight years for justice to win through?”
He said extremists would continue to demand the couple be killed and that the two would be forced to stay in hiding unless they could start a new life in a country in the West.
Mr Tahir said the couple were not in court to hear the judgement but that immediately afterwards he contacted the authorities at the two jails where they have been held to pass on the news.
Mr Tahir said Shagufta has been held in the same 4ft x 6ft cell in Multan Women’s Jail formerly occupied by Asia Bibi, another Christian woman, whose blasphemy conviction was overturned on appeal in October 2018.
Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, Aid to the Church in Need (UK), said: “For eight years, Shagufta and Shafqat have struggled to win justice in the teeth of fierce opposition from extremists who are opposed to Christians.
“At last, they have been acquitted – thank God – but there will be difficulties.
“Extremists still want them dead, we fear they will never be truly free in their own country.”