Death sentences for 3 Pakistani Christians convicted of blasphemy

Three Christians have been sentenced to death for blasphemy by secular courts in Pakistan.  On 27 March 2014 a Lahore court sentenced Sawan Masih for defiling the Koran and on 4 April a second court sentenced to death Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kasuar for sending blasphemous text messages.

In March 2013 Masih was accused of blasphemy by a Muslim neighbor following a dispute over property. The accusations of blasphemy broadcast by mosque loudspeakers in the Joseph Colony in the Badami Bagh area of Lahore sparked two days of anti-Christian rioting, with mobs setting fire to 200 homes. Civil Rights activists defending Masih have said they will appeal the verdict, noting the charges were false and are part of a larger land grab to drive Christians out of the Joseph Colony to enable its development as a commercial site.

On 21 July 2013 a disabled Christian man, Shafaqat Emmanuel and his wife Shagufta Kausar were arrested in the Gojra district of Lahore for allegedly sending blasphemous texts to prominent Muslims. Muhmmad Hussain and Anwar Mansoor Goraya complained to police they received the messages written in English from cellphone registered in Mrs. Kausar’s name.

However, her attorneys told the court that Mrs. Kausar’s cellphone records show no text messages were made. They further noted that neither defendant spoke English nor understood the Latin alphabet and could not have written the texts.

In a statement released after the Masih verdict was handed down, the London-based NGO Release International said: “All too often in Pakistan rivals will cry blasphemy to settle scores and enact revenge,’ says Release International Chief Executive Paul Robinson. ‘It leads to death threats, murder and riots. In the interests of justice Pakistan must repeal these blasphemy laws.”

Pakistani journalist Shahzad Nafat denounced the death sentence handed down against Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kasuar.  “Kangaroo Justice is going on in this country called Pakistan, and I hope this news must have brought joy and contentment to the hearts of Pakistani Muslims.”

For the “last five months we [have been] yelling in front of the International community that all the victims of the Blasphemy Law will be awarded with the same punishment. … If a bold step [is not taken by] the Christian community soon, then it [will] become impossible for them to live in Pakistan.”

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