Islamabad: The case of a Christian couple on death row in Pakistan after being convicted of blasphemy has reportedly been taken up by the lawyer who defended Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was cleared of blasphemy charges after spending eight years on death row.
Shagufta Kousar and Shafqat Masih were accused of sending blasphemous text messages to a Muslim man. They were sentenced to death, but have appealed to the high court in Lahore, the Guardian reported on Wednesday.
Lawyer Saiful Malook, who briefly fled Pakistan after receiving death threats when Bibi’s conviction for blasphemy was overturned last October, is to appeal against the couple’s 2014 conviction under the same law.
According to Malook, Kousar is being held in the same cell in which Bibi was imprisoned before being moved into protective custody after her sentence was overturned.
The couple, who have four children, are from Gojra, Punjab province, where Kousar was employed as a cleaner at a church school. A Muslim man in the city complained to officials at his mosque that he was sent blasphemous messages in English on his phone, and the complaint was passed on to the police.
Kousar and Masih were arrested and charged with “insulting the Quran” and “insulting the Prophet”.
‘They are innocent’
Musih, who is disabled, admitted sending the messages but later said he his confession was made under duress, as he feared for his wife’s safety.
The couple are illiterate and have argued they could not send text messages in English. They also said the sim card used to send the text messages was bought in Kousar’s name after her identity card was stolen.
“They did not get a fair trial. They are innocent,” Malook said.
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association which campaigned for Bibi’s release, said Kousar and Masih’s case was part of a “worrying trend of Christians accused for derogatory text messages and social media postings”, the Guardian reported.
Malook fled to the Netherlands in fear for his life after Islamist extremists launched violent protests when Bibi’s conviction was overturned, but later returned to Pakistan.
Bibi, a former farm labourer who spent eight years on death row before being freed, arrived in Canada last week where she was reunited with her family. Her case drew international attention, and two high-profile political figures were assassinated after supporting Bibi and calling for reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Christians make up only 1.59 per cent of Pakistan’s population of more than 200 million, but about half of those accused of blasphemy in the country are non-Muslims.