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The European Parliament has voted a resolution against blasphemy laws and for the release of a Christian couple on the death row for seven years in Pakistan.

Table of contents

  • Introduction
  • Blasphemy Laws
  • Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel : A timeline of the proceedings
  • 51 names of blasphemy prisoners in HRWF Database
  • Conclusions

HRWF (10.05.2021) – On 29 April, MEPs voted a resolution against blasphemy laws in Pakistan in which they expressed their concerns for the health and wellbeing of Pakistani couple Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, who were sentenced to death on blasphemy charges in 2014. Since their conviction, based on deeply flawed evidence, they have been held captive and isolated from each other and their families, while their appeal process has been postponed repeatedly, MEPs say. The resolution was adopted by 681 votes in favour, 3 against with 6 abstentions.

The resolution notes that Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, despite never having led to official executions, incite harassment, violence and murder against those being accused. There have been cases of mob violence against accused who were finally freed and against judges who had released them. Asia Bibi, a Christian who had been sentenced to death by hanging in 2010, was released in October 2018 when the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted her based on insufficient evidence, though she was not allowed to leave the country until the verdict was reviewed. She had to hide all the time to avoid being killed by extremist groups.

The European Parliament calls on the Pakistani authorities to release Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar immediately and unconditionally and to overturn their death sentence.

Should they need to leave Pakistan, EU countries must issue emergency visas and offer international protection to the couple, MEPs urge, as well as for their lawyer Saiful Malook and others that stand accused for peacefully exercising their rights.

On 7 May 2019, Canada granted Asia Bibi political asylum. EU member states ‘did not rush’ to provide her a safe haven at that time.

Blasphemy Laws

Pakistan Penal Code Sections 295 A, B, and C and Section 298 A, B, and C [1]

 

295-A.          Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the ‘religious feelings of any class of the citizens of Pakistan, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations insults the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years or with fine or with both.

 

295-B. Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.

 

295-C. Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

 

298-A. Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of any wife (Ummul Mumineen), or members of the family (Ahle-bait), of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), or any of the righteous Caliphs (Khulafa-e-Rashideen) or companions (Sahaaba) of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

 

298-B. (1) Any person of the Quadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves ‘Ahmadis’ or by any other name) who by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation,

 

(a) refers to, or addresses, any person, other than a Caliph or companion of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as ‘Ameer-ul-Mumineen,’ ‘Khalifa-tul-Mumnineen’, Khalifa-tul-Muslimeen, ‘Sahaabi’ or ‘Razi Allah Anho’;

(b) refers to, or addresses, any person, other than a wife of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as ‘Ummul-Mumineen’;

(c) refers to, or addresses any person, other than a member of the family (Ahle-bait) of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as Ahle-bait; or

(d) refers to, or names, or calls, his place of worship as ‘Masjid’:

shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine.

 

(2) Any person of the Quadiani group or Lahori group (who call themselves ‘Ahmadis’ or by any other name) who by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, refers to the mode or form of call to prayers followed by his faith as ‘Azan’, or recites Azan as used by the Muslims, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine.

 

298-C. Any person of the Quadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves ‘Ahmadis’ or by any other name), who directly or indirectly, poses himself as a Muslim, or calls, or refers to, his faith as Islam, or preaches or propagates his faith, or invites others to accept his faith, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

 

Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel :A timeline of the proceedings

18 June 2013: Blasphemous text messages were sent to a cleric and a lawyer from a phone allegedly registered in Shagufta Kausar’s name.

21 July 2013: Shagufta and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel were arrested and charged with blasphemy.

4 April 2014: A sessions court in Toba Tek Singh, Punjab Province, sentenced Shagufta and Shafqat to death.

6 February 2016: Shafqat filed a petition in the Lahore High Court for bail, pleading: “I have developed bedsores and I may die in jail.” He also said, “There are serious contradictions in witness accounts against me and my wife and we are hopeful of an acquittal on our appeal.”

May 2019: Asia Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Malook, who has taken up the couple’s case, stated: “They did not get a fair trialThey are innocent.” He visited Shagufta in April and reported, “Shagufta needs help from the world, she is constantly weeping that she cannot spend any more time thereAnd Shafqat is disabled on the bed, he can’t move. The latest doctor’s report indicates that his whole back is almost destroyed from the bed sores. He may die in prison.”

June 2019: Lahore High Court set 25 June 2019 as the appeal hearing date for Shagufta and Shafqat.

March 2020: It was reported that a final verdict in the couple’s case was expected to be read by the Lahore High Court on 8 April 2020. Shagufta and Shafqat’s new defence lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu said he was “confident” of a positive outcome because “there is no clear evidence against the two of them“. On 20 February, a judge reportedly ordered a fresh probe into what he called “dubious evidence” used to sentence them to death on blasphemy charges.

8 April 2020: Shagufta and Shafqat’s appeal verdict was due to be read out by Lahore High Court but was postponed due to the Covid-19 crisis. No new date was given.

3 June 2020: Shagufta and Shafqat’s appeal hearing, which had been rescheduled for 3 June, was postponed until 22 June 2020.

22 June 2020: Shagufta and Shafqat’s appeal hearing was postponed again and rescheduled for 10 September 2020.

10 September 2020: The appeal hearing was adjourned because one of the two panel judges failed to appear. It was rescheduled for 24 September.

24 September 2020: Shagufta and Shafqat’s case was called but the judges said they would hear the case the following week, without giving any reason for the postponement.

29 September 2020: A new date of 22 October 2020 was set for the appeal hearing.

17 October 2020: Lawyer Saiful Malook tweeted that the hearing was to be rescheduled because the bench was not available for 22 October.

21 October 2020: Saiful Malook tweeted that the hearing was rescheduled for 4 November 2020.

14 December 2020: Saiful Malook tweeted that the hearing, due to be held on 16 December, was to be rescheduled.

22 January 2021: The hearing was rescheduled for 15 February at Lahore High Court.

15 February 2021: The scheduled hearing was adjourned to 4 March.

8 March 2021: Saiful Malook tweeted that the appeal “is ordered to be heard on second week of April“.

15 April 202:1 Shagufta and Shafqat’s appeal, scheduled to be heard on 15 April, was postponed because of an increase in Covid-19 cases. Amnesty International recently reported that Shafqat’s health is rapidly deteriorating. His lawyer says he has multiple bed sores that are not being given adequate treatment and are increasingly painful. Shafqat was in a coma for three days in March, according to his family, but was not taken to the prison hospital.

51 names of blasphemy prisoners in HRWF Database

Ahmadis (5)

AHMAD MubasherAHMED EhsanAHMED GhulamWAQAR Ahmad – WARAICH Shaheed Ahmad.

Catholics (1)

 

KENNETH Anwar

 

Protestants (29)

 

ASGHAR Muhammad – ASGHAR Noman – ASHRAF Malik – FAISAL Humayun – AYUB Qaisar – BHATTI Zafar – BIN Hajaj – EMMANUEL Shafqat – FAROOQ Malik – GILL Aftab (Pastor) – ISHAQ Soofi – JAMES Nadeem – KAREEM Abdul – KAUSAR Shagufta – KAUSER Shaguftah – LATIF Shafeeq – MASIH Imran – MASIH Ishfaq – MASIH Patras – MASIH Sajjad – MASIH Sajjad – MASIH Shahbaz – MASIH Yaqoob Bashir – MUSHTAQ Sunny – PERVAIZ Asif – SAMSON Nadeem – STEPHEN Masih.

 

Shias (1)

 

SATTAR Abdul

 

Sunnis (15)

 

AHMAD Maqsood – ALI Muhammad – ALI Rehmat – ASIF – ASLAM Muhammad – HAFEEZ Junaid – HAMEED Abdul – MAHDI Arif – MUSHTAQ Muhammad alias MASTA – RASOOL Inayat – RAZA Taimoor (Shia) – SHAFI Muhammad – SHAHZAD Muhammad – UD DIN Shamas – YOUSAF Muhammad.

 

As of 10 May 2021, at least 20 were on the death row and 15 got a life sentence.

 

See details of their cases here and the 64-page report of UK Home Office “Country Policy and Information Note – Pakistan: Christians and Christian Converts” (February 2021), which also mentions details of HRWF’s Database of FORB Prisoners.

Conclusions

Up to now Pakistan has ignored United Nations repeated appeals to repeal its blasphemy laws or, at the very least, ensure the necessary safeguards are in place to prevent the abuse of these laws.

In 2014, Pakistan entered the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+), which “should provide a strong incentive to respect core human rights and labour rights” among others but this has been proven not to be the case. Despite continuing violations of human rights, including religious freedom, the European Commission certifies that Pakistan remains eligible for the scheme. The European Parliament calls on the European Commission “to urgently submit a report to the Parliament explaining why Pakistan remains eligible for the GSP+”, suspecting that business seems to prevail on human rights concerns.

Human Rights Without Frontiers supports this position and will monitor the follow up of this initiative as European regulations stipulate that countries not respecting human rights are not eligible for GSP+ status, that allows products to come into the EU market from vulnerable developing countries without import duties.

[1] Legislative Council, Pakistan Penal Code (Act XLV of 1860)

Photo: CLAAS

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