By Harriet Sherwood; Religion correspondent
Pakistani Christian man and wife sentenced to death for text messages sent to Muslim
The case of a Christian couple on death row in Pakistan after being convicted of blasphemy has reportedly been taken up by the lawyer who defended Asia Bibi.
Shagufta Kousar and Shafqat Masih were accused of sending blasphemous text messages to a Muslim man. They were sentenced to death, but have appealed to the high court in Lahore.
Lawyer Saiful Malook, who briefly fled Pakistan after receiving death threats when Bibi’s conviction for blasphemy was overturned last October, is to appeal against the couple’s 2014 conviction under the same law.
According to Malook, Kousar is being held in the same cell in which Bibi was imprisoned before being moved into protective custody after her sentence was overturned.
The couple, who have four children, are from Gojra, Punjab province, where Kousar was employed as a cleaner at a church school. A Muslim man in the city complained to officials at his mosque that he was sent blasphemous messages in English on his phone, and the complaint was passed on to the police.
Kousar and Masih were arrested and charged with “insulting the Qur’an” and “insulting the Prophet”.
Musih, who is disabled, admitted sending the messages but later said he his confession was made under duress, as he feared for his wife’s safety.
The couple are illiterate and have argued they could not send text messages in English. They also said the sim card used to send the text messages was bought in Kousar’s name after her identity card was stolen.
“They did not get a fair trial. They are innocent,” Malook told Fox News.
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association which campaigned for Bibi’s release, said Kousar and Masih’s case was part of a “worrying trend of Christians accused for derogatory text messages and social media postings”.
He added: “The simple fact that the couple could not possibly have written the blasphemous text messages due to being hyper-illiterate should result in their immediate release. However in Pakistan primary evidence can often be ignored and worse still manipulated by powerful and wealthy people intent on doing malice.”