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Pakistani Christian Couple Who Spent 7 Years on Death Row Granted Asylum in Europe

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A Pakistani Christian couple, who spent seven years on death row over false blasphemy charges, safely arrived in Europe last week after they were acquitted in June.

In 2014, Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife Shagufta Kausar had been convicted of sending blasphemous text messages insulting the prophet Muhammad to a local imam from a phone number registered to Shagufta's name.

"We are delighted that Shagufta and Shafqat have, at long last, been released and have reached safety. Sadly, their case is not an isolated incident but testifies to the plight that many Christians and other religious minorities experience in Pakistan today," said Tehmina Arora with Alliance Defending Freedom International. "While the right to religious freedom is protected by the Pakistani constitution, many face severe persecution and denial of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly."

Under Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting Islam or its prophet can be sentenced to death. Although no one has ever been executed for it, dozens of people have been killed by mobs for just being accused of the so-called crime. 

Shafqat said he will miss his home but is grateful to be safe and reunited with family. 

"We are so relieved to finally be free. The last eight years have been incredibly hard, but we are so happy to be reunited with our children. We are very grateful that so many people, especially the teams from ADF International and the Jubilee Campaign, helped and protected us by bringing us to safety. Although we will miss our country, we are happy to finally be somewhere safe. Hopefully, the blasphemy laws in Pakistan will soon be abolished, so others won't suffer the same fate as Shagufta and I."

Shafqat and Shagufta say the allegations against them were motivated by a minor dispute between the couple's children and their neighbors.

Throughout the lengthy investigation, limited evidence was generated against the Christian couple.

During the trial, the couple's attorney, Saif-ul-Malook, suggested that a neighbor the couple had argued with might have attempted to frame them by purchasing a SIM card in Shagufta's name and sending the text messages. 

"I am just happy to get justice for this couple," Malook told ICC. "It's a bogus case. All judges are afraid. Nobody wants to hear their case and keeps tossing it to another bench."

Pakistan is ranked 5th on Open Doors' 2021 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.

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