Asia Bibi Is Free, but Pakistan’s Christians Are Still Facing Widespread Persecution

Image: Piroschka van de Wouw/AFP/Getty Images
After securing acquittal for Asia Bibi (top left), Pakistani lawyer Saif-ul-Malook (right) will take up the case of Shagufta Kausar (bottom left).

Now that Asia Bibi has finally left Pakistan and been reunited with her family in Canada, her prison cell has a new resident: yet another Christian woman condemned to death over blasphemy charges.

Bibi’s lawyer, Saif-ul Malook, told CT he will now take up the case of Shagufta Kausar, a 45-year-old mother of four, and her husband.

Christians are Pakistan’s largest religious minority after Hindus, comprising about 1.6 percent of the Muslim nation’s population of 210 million. However, the highest number of blasphemy charges are filed against Christians because of their poor status, their origins in the downtrodden “untouchable” caste, and their association with the West. [CT’s Quick to Listen podcast explains more.]

Bibi was accused in June 2009 of speaking blasphemous words against Muhammad, a crime punishable with death in Pakistan, and was convicted in November 2010. The Supreme Court of Pakistan finally acquitted Bibi in October 2018 over “contradictions and inconsistent statements of the witnesses.”

Now Kausar is locked in the same prison cell in Multan Women Jail where Bibi has been incarcerated for many years. Kausar and her husband Shafqat Masih, 48, were condemned to death by a trial court in February 2014. The Christian couple hails from the infamous town of Gojra, where in 2009 more than 100 houses were set on fire and 7 Christians killed by a violent mob over blasphemy allegations. Since then, tensions between Christians and Muslims have regularly flared.

Masih is bedridden because of a spinal injury from 2004. Their four children, ages 5 to 13, were dependent on Kausar, who worked as a domestic helper in the house of Gojra bishop John Samuel until Muhammad Hussein, a prayer leader at a local mosque, accused Masih of texting blasphemous text messages from Kausar’s cell phone with her “connivance.”

Hussein alleged that around 10 p.m. on July 18, 2013, he was praying in the mosque when blasphemous text messages started pouring in. He said that he showed the text to others, including lawyer Sajjad Asghar Khokhar who called the number and said there was no answer, but blasphemous text messages were then also sent to Khokhar’s cell phone.

The people of the area surrounded the Gojra Police Station after Kausar and Masih were arrested. The mob demanded that the couple be handed to them so that they could be killed. The police resorted to including the harshest charges in order to disperse the protestors.

Malook told CT that the Gojra police also extracted a confession which was illegal and carries no validity under the law. “As was in Asia Bibi’s case, the trial court lawyers in this Christian couple’s case could not properly plead the case.”

Malook said the couple has been waiting five years for the Lahore High Court to hear their appeal against the trial court’s verdict. He plans to file another petition for a hearing.

“The couple is innocent,” Malook told CT, “and there is no legal substantial evidence available that proves they actually texted those messages.”

While the lawyer recently received a wave of global media attention for securing Bibi’s freedom from the Supreme Court, Malook told CT that he won’t necessarily pursue Kausar’s case the same way he did Bibi’s.

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Source: Christianity Today