Appeal of Shafqat and Shagufta sentenced to death is always postponed

Sad he is, against the desperate. Pakistani Joseph hoped every time his sister and brother-in-law would be released. They have been sentenced to death for blasphemy and have been imprisoned in Pakistan for more than seven years. This Monday, a court in the city of Lahore was finally going to discuss the case, but it was postponed again. “That has happened a hundred times now,” says Joseph.

Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel were arrested in 2013. With a phone registered in her name, the woman would have sent messages in English to an imam, in which the prophet Muhammad was insulted. But shes a low-skilled cleaner, says Joseph, who could never have sent this himself. “She can hardly write in Urdu, let alone in English,” he says sitting behind the kitchen table in his home in the Netherlands. He wants to keep his address a secret, like his last name. He fled because of the case and fears that even here he may be the target of Muslim fundamentalists.

Human rights organisations have been warning about the far-reaching consequences of blasphemy legislation in Pakistan for years. Amnesty concluded in a report that these are abused for personal disputes, especially against minorities in the country.

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also says Jan Dirk Nifterik of the Stichting Helping Persecuted Christienen (HVC). “This law is more often used as a weapon to remove people from the field. To resolve neighbors quarrels or for other reasons.” The foundation supports Christian families who are in situations like this, including Josephs. “As far as we know, there are 238 cases with Christians. At the moment, of that group 25 are in prison,” says Nifterik.

Whoever sent the messages in the case of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel is unclear. Its possible neighbors did it with whom the couple was arguing. According to Joseph, his brother-in-law was tortured by the police and forced into a confession.

Once indicted, suspects and their families face a second problem in these cases: Muslim fundamentalists who want them dead and become furious if they are acquitted. A well-known example is the prosecution of Asia Bibi, the first woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010.

A minister and a governor who declared herself for her freedom in the following years were murdered by extremists. When Bibi was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court after ten years of imprisonment, it led to large-scale protests calling for the woman to be hanged after all.

Joseph was told again on Monday that the appeal of his sister and brother-in-law sentenced to death had been postponed:

That is also why the case of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel is constantly being postponed, says their lawyer Saif ul Malook. Judges no longer dare to burn their fingers on this kind of thing. “There was no reason to postpone it. The only conclusion we can draw from is that the judges in Pakistan are afraid of the Islamists,” he says on the phone from Pakistan. “I think this case will often be postponed unless pressure is put on the court.”

Malook also supported Asia Bibi. He has good hopes that the couple will be acquitted because he believes that their innocence can be better proven. But then the case will have to be dealt with first.

In the meantime, the mental and physical health of the two is deteriorating hard, says Joseph. His brother-in-law, whos half paralyzed, is in the hospital with bedsores. His sister is broken and says she cant handle life in prison anymore. And their four young children must grow up without their parents. In the meantime, Joseph tries to draw government attention to the case. “And I pray that God will help us and my sister will one day be free so that we can see each other again.”