A Muslim lawyer for a Christian couple accused of blasphemy against Islam has warned that Muslim extremists are calling for their deaths.
Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar were convicted of sending a text message, in English, that was considered blasphemous against Mohammad, despite being illiterate. They were convicted by a Pakistani court in 2014 and sentenced to death by hanging. Earlier this month, the Lahore High Court overturned the convictions due to lack of evidence, but for the moment remain in prison.
The couple’s lawyer, Saif ul Malook, on Friday told Catholic aid organization Aid to the Church in Need that influential Muslim extremists were calling on their followers to kill the couple and himself. “The messages in Urdu language on twitter and other social media are very clear: Saif ul Malook, Shagufta and Shafqat should be killed. They need to be eliminated,” he said. “It’s very dangerous.”
He added, “The messages from very influential Islamists belonging to religious parties are prompting ordinary people – millions of them – telling them that they will go to paradise if they kill me, Shagufta, and Shafqat. For poor people, who are uneducated, this is a very big incentive.”
Mr ul Malook said he is also being targeted for his role in the case of Asia Bibi, who was acquitted of blasphemy in 2018. Following the verdict, Islamist parties led violent demonstrations in cities throughout Pakistan. Mr ul Malook feared that their would be even wider protests when Shafqat and Shagufta are released from prison. “I would say I am more afraid now than when Asia Bibi was acquitted,” he said. “Back then, nobody was putting such strong messages on social media inciting the people.”
He said he feared the government was unlikely to provide adequate protection, as the ruling party is dependant on support from Muslim hardliners.
Aid to the Church in Need also spoke with Shagufta’s brother, Joseph, who said, “All the family and I are very worried for Shagufta, Shafqat her husband, and Saif ul Malook.” He insisted, “The threats against them have to be taken seriously. Even in the prison there is a risk of them being shot or poisoned.”
Human rights organization Amnesty International has called authorities to provide Shafqat, Shagufta and their family, along with Saif ul Malook, with adequate security. Shagufta and Shafqat are expected to seek asylum in Australia where they have contacts, according to Amnesty International Australia.