Two months after being acquitted by the Lahore High Court and surviving death threats, Shagufta and her partially paralyzed husband Shafqat Emmanuel, who were on death row for seven years on false blasphemy charges, have been granted asylum Europe.
Shagufta and Shafqat faced death threats after reports of their acquittal by the LHC broke in early June. In 2014, a session court had sentenced the couple to death by hanging.
“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,” said Shafqat on behalf of the family, according to ADF International, a human rights group that supported the Christian couple.
“Although we will miss our country, we are happy to finally be somewhere safe,” added Shafqat, who was the watchman of a school in the Gojra area of Toba Tek Singh district in Punjab.
The Christian couple was arrested in July 2013 under the blasphemy laws after a local imam accused them of committing blasphemy by sending him an offensive text message.
Muhammad Hussain, a leader at a local mosque, claimed that Shafqat used his wife’s cellphone to send an anti-Islamic text message. He later claimed other messages followed. Hussain said he was praying when he received the offensive text message from an unknown number.
The cleric reportedly showed the text message to two other imams before approaching his counsel for legal proceedings. He and his lawyer later claimed they both received subsequent blasphemous messages.
Shagufta’s brother, Joseph, previously told the BBC that his brother-in-law had been tortured and forced to make a false confession.
The text messages were also alleged to have been written in English. Aside from being illiterate, Shafqat and Shagufta are not familiar with the English language — written or spoken.
ADF International’s Director of Advocacy for Asia, Tehmina Arora, said in a statement that their case “is not an isolated incident but testifies to the plight that many Christians and other religious minorities experience in Pakistan today.”
The couple’s lawyer, Saif Ul Malook, said, “These cases are very difficult to litigate, due to the concern for security. There is a very real threat to the life of the clients and the lawyers.”
The couple’s country of asylum has not been disclosed due to security concerns.