Having spent eight years in prison for a crime they never committed, for this Pakistani Christian couple justice has finally was served, but after a long, grueling wait, and at a heavy cost. For these eight years they were accused of committing blasphemy-- a crime punished by the death sentence in Pakistan, according to its infamous blasphemy laws.
Shagufta Kausar and her disabled husband Shafqat Masih on Thursday were acquitted by Lahore High court from the charges of blasphemy, The Express Tribune said in a report. The Christian couple was represented by the same lawyer who had earlier successfully fought the case of Asia Bibi. She was acquitted by the country’s Supreme Court in 2018 for the very same charges.In 2014, a trial court convicted Kausar and Masih, on the basis of a complaint filed by one of their neighbors, and awarded them the death sentence. The neighbor claimed that the duo had sent some blasphemous messages on his phone number and some other neighbors. At the time of the alleged crime, Kausar was employed at a nearby bishop's compound.
The trial court mentioned the couple’s confession-- which rights groups in Pakistan believe often come as a result of coercion and high-handedness by police.
However, it turned out the actual ‘perceived crime’ wasn’t committed by the couple. It was their children who had a quarrel with the children of the neighbor, the main complainant in the case. So the latter decided to take revenge by alleging a crime--blasphemy, a highly emotive and politicized issue in the country-- that often leaves very little scope for the defendant’s side.
The couple’s lawyer challenged the grounds on which the trial court convicted them. He claimed the sim card from which the alleged messages were sent had never been used by the couple. But the sim card was actually fraudulently issued on the id of Kausar.
The complainant was also working at the same bishop's compound where Kausar was working. From there, he managed to get hold of a photocopy of the identity card Kausar had submitted. Using that document, he got issued a sim card. The complainant then used this sim card by sending blasphemous messages to the people in the neighborhood to frame the Christian couple.
Another fact highlighted by the couple’s lawyer that proves their innocence was that the application form for the sim card was filled in English. However, the couple doesn't know English.On the basis of these facts, Lahore High Court acquitted the couple.
Incidents of people, especially belonging to minority communities-- Hindu, Sikh, Christians, and sometimes Ahmadiya Muslims--being wrongly framed on the charges of blasphemy by their Muslim neighbors, coworkers are common in Pakistan. However, the main tragedy with the country remains - law enforcement agencies and the country's lower judiciary often, deliberately, fail to take cognizance of facts on the ground.
Further complicating the situation is the fact these cases often become politicized in Pakistan under the shadow of growing Islamist culture, putting undue pressure on the government and judiciary to not let go of the accused in blasphemy cases.
Mainstream political parties desist proposing any reform to the blasphemy laws, fearing retaliation by radical Islamist parties whose grip on the streets of Pakistan has grown immensely in recent years.
The lawyers who fight these cases regularly face death threats from the Islamists.
(South Asia Monitor)