The Religious Freedom Institute’s (RFI) president, Thomas Farr, has joined over a dozen civil society members of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable in calling on the government of Pakistan to release a Pakistani Christian couple who have been sentenced to death under that country’s blasphemy law.
The couple, Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kauser, were convicted in 2014 by a Punjab court after an imam at a local mosque accused them of sending him a text message he said was insulting to the Prophet of Islam. The couple’s appeal is pending in the Lahore High Court, and after years of delay, a hearing is expected soon.
Like many blasphemy prosecutions in Pakistan, the legal proceedings have been marred by irregularities. The allegedly blasphemous messages were in English but the defendants are illiterate and do not speak English. During the trial, attorneys for the complainants publicly threatened violence if the couple were not found guilty.
In their letter to Asad Majeed Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, the leaders and organizations call for the release of Mr. Emmanuel and Ms. Kauser and decry the use of blasphemy laws to “justify incarcerating religious minorities.” The letter “urges the Pakistani government to reform legal procedures to ensure” that such cases are not repeated.
In 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its list of “countries of particular concern,” countries whose violations of religious freedom are among the most egregious in the world. According to the State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom, there are at least 77 individuals imprisoned in Pakistan on blasphemy charges.
The director of RFI’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team, Ismail Royer, has written a monograph about Pakistan’s application of its blasphemy law to non-Muslim minorities.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws continue to be used as a weapon of religious persecution. They not only threaten the well-being of Pakistan’s religious minorities but the very possibility of a Pakistani democracy built on justice. They should be eliminated.