On April 4th a judge in a court in eastern Pakistan sentenced Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar to death for allegedly sending a text message that insulted the Prophet Mohammed.
Officials from the Prosecution Department confirmed the death sentence. The couple who have three children and are in their forties live in the town of Gojra which has a history of using violence against Christians. The two will appeal the charges.
The prayer leader of a local mosque, Maulvi Hussain filed the complaint last July after receiving a text message he claims insulted the Prophet. He accused the husband of sending the message from his wife's cell phone. The lawyer for the couple claims the message was sent from a phone that the couple had lost some time before the message had been sent. The couple fear that others had implicated them in the case in order to settle personal scores with them and that those involved themselves had links to the complainant.
The lawyer for the couple claims the husband was mistreated by police. He is confined to a wheel chair due to a spinal injury. The lawyer says he was forced to confess in order to calm down a mob led by Muslim clerics.
The Pakistan blasphemy laws are notorious and according to some rights campaigners they are sometimes used to settle scores. The town of Gojra is infamous for its attacks on the Christian minority. In 2009 a mob attacked a Christian area killing at least seven people and burning 77 houses merely on the basis of a rumor that a Koran had been desecrated.
There have been other cases of Christians being sentenced to death for blasphemy, Late in March this year, in Lahore, Sawan Masih was sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Mohammed during a conversation with a Muslim friend. Ninety seven per cent of Pakistanis identify themselves as Muslim.
Back in March the Pakistani English-Language newspaper "The Nation" took a poll of its readers. Sixty-eight per cent thought the blasphemy laws should be repealed. However even criticism of the laws is regarded by many radicals as blasphemy to be punished by death.
Salman Taseer, who was former governor of Punjab, was assassinated for opposing the blasphemy laws, as was Shahbaz Bhatti who was formerly Federal Minister for Minorities.
According to Wikipedia there has never been an actual judicial execution for those sentenced to death for blasphemy. However, twenty of those charged have been murdered. Charges of blasphemy often result not just in those charged being harassed but also the police and judges. Even those who are found innocent of the charges often go into hiding or leave Pakistan.