European Parliament Condemns Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law

Europe Parliament Stands up for Christian couple sentenced to death

April 29, 2021

The European Parliament passed a bold resolution today supporting a Christian wife and her disabled husband in prison in Pakistan for “blasphemy” and calling for the possible withdrawal of Pakistan’s special trade status.

Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar were sentenced to death in 2014. They were accused of sending a blasphemous text message in English. The impoverished Christians with four children are barely literate in their own language of Urdu.

They and at least 1,855 people have been charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws since 1987. The highest number of accusations took place in 2020. The law is often used to settle scores or victimize minorities.

Pakistan’s Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs reportedly called for people who commit blasphemy to be beheaded.

The resolution states many facts including:

Whereas the Pakistani couple Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel were sentenced to death on blasphemy charges in 2014; whereas these charges were based on the alleged sending of text messages insulting the Prophet Muhammad from a phone number registered to Shagufta Kausar to the person accusing the couple of blasphemy;

Whereas the evidence on which the couple were convicted can be considered deeply flawed; whereas their illiteracy debunks the assumption that they could have sent the text messages; whereas the phone which was allegedly used to send the messages has not been recovered for investigation; whereas the couple had allegedly been in an argument with the accuser not long before the accusations were made; whereas there is reason to believe that the couple were tortured;

Whereas the couple have been detained in jail pending a court ruling on their appeal against their death sentence; whereas their appeal was due to be heard in April 2020, six years after they were sentenced, but has been postponed multiple times, most recently on 15 February 2021;

Whereas the couple have been separated from their four children since their conviction;

Whereas Shafqat Emmanuel is suffering from the result of damage to his spinal cord following an accident in 2004 and is not offered appropriate medical attention in prison; whereas Shagufta Kausar is isolated in a women’s prison and is suffering from depression as a result of her situation;

Whereas the High Court of Lahore has postponed the case several times and whereas the couple’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, has been working very hard to ensure that Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel can finally hear their case in court and their judicial right to a fair and just trial is finally upheld;

The European Parliament also:

Expresses its concern for the health and wellbeing of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel and urges the Pakistan authorities to ensure that adequate medical care is immediately provided; calls on the Pakistani authorities to release Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar immediately and unconditionally and to overturn their death sentence;

Regrets the fact that the appeal of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel keeps being postponed; calls on the High Court of Lahore to deliver its ruling as soon as possible and to give a reasonable explanation for any further postponement;

Notes that Shafqat Emmanuel is being kept in a hospital in prison because of the seriousness of his condition and was twice treated outside Faisalabad prison; regrets the fact that the couple have been held captive for seven years, isolated from each other and their families; calls, therefore, on the Government of Pakistan to ensure that its prisons offer decent and humane conditions;

Is concerned at the continued abuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan, which is exacerbating existing religious divides and thus fomenting a climate of religious intolerance, violence and discrimination; stresses that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are incompatible with international human rights laws and are increasingly used to target vulnerable minority groups;

The resolution gives several actions including:

Urges Pakistan to repeal sections 295-B and C of the national Penal Code [blasphemy laws];

Calls on the Government of Pakistan to unequivocally condemn incitement to violence and discrimination against religions minorities in the country;

Calls on the Government of Pakistan to put in place effective, procedural and institutional safeguards at the investigative, prosecutorial and judicial levels to prevent the abuse of the blasphemy laws pending their abolition;

Urges all EU and European diplomatic personnel to do everything they can to provide protection and support for Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, including by attending trials, requesting prison visits and continuously and resolutely reaching out to the authorities involved in this case.

Calls on the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to immediately review Pakistan’s eligibility for GSP+ status in the light of current events and whether there is sufficient reason to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of this status and the benefits that come with it, and to report to the European Parliament on this matter as soon as possible;

Peter Van Dalen, a member of Parliament, held up a picture of Shagufta and Shafqat and told the European Parliament:

Dear Colleagues please take a good look at this photo. This is the couple in question today. I have asked you to take a good look at this picture because it is about these people who are imprisoned in Pakistan.

They have been arrested and have been in prison since 2013 and were sentenced to death in 2014. This Christian couple, they have been accused of forwarding text messages in English over a telephone to a number of people. Allegedly blasphemous messages. They can hardly speak their own language, Urdu.

They are now sentenced to death and are awaiting appeal. The case has been postponed numerous times in Lahore. That is probably because Islamic extremists have put pressure on the judges. I would therefore like to express my special thanks to their lawyer: Saif ul-Malook. He is defending this couple, as he has previously successfully defended Asia Bibi, who is now free.

At the same time, I am thinking not only of this couple, but also of the many – possibly hundreds – of other believers. Believers imprisoned for blasphemy in Pakistan. I am think of Ahmadis, Shi’a Muslims. Thinking of Sikhs and Hindus. Numerous detainees all arrested because of the wretched blasphemy law.

I am very pleased that in fact all political groups have made a strong joint resolution on this issue. Mainly to ask the European Commission to review the GSP + trade relationship with Pakistan. Pakistan has a lot of advantages and they need to be looked at critically.

The trade status, called GSP+, obliges countries to ratify and implement 27 international treaties including ones that guarantee human rights and religious freedom.

Please pray for:

  • Strength and freedom for Shafqat and Shagufta and others accused of blasphemy.
  • Courage for government leaders to protect the innocent and do justice.
  • Blasphemy laws to be overturned

(Thanks to Jubilee Campaign for the alert and translating MP Van Dalen’s speech.)