Why they were on death row
Although Shaguftah and Shafqat are illiterate, the Christian couple, surnamed Masih*, was convicted of sending blasphemous texts—in English—to Islamic clerics. Shaguftah and Shafqat’s accuser said he was praying on July 18, 2013 after breaking Ramadan fast when his cell phone vibrated. He said that he checked his cellphone and found blasphemous text messages insulting both the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an.
Gojra City Police Station House Officer Muhammad Nisar told World Watch Monitor in 2013 that Hussein’s call data revealed the messages were sent from Shaguftah’s cell phone number.
However, she told the police that the cell phone had been lost for a month, and she didn’t know who might have sent the alleged messages. Despite her explanation and illiteracy, the Gojra City Police detained the couple, along with their four children, and pressured them to name someone who could have sent the messages.
In what some said was an attempt to show that progress had been made in the case, the police formally arrested the couple in 2013 and sent them to jail the next day. Three years later, the couple appealed their sentence, but like Pakistani courts often do in blasphemy cases against Christians, officials continuously delayed their appeal.
“Shafqat has admitted to the police he sent the blasphemous messages and gave this statement to the judicial magistrate,” Nisar said.
Why they are now free
The couple’s lawyer at the time, Riaz Anjum, argued that extracting Shafqat’s confession was illegal. “Investigation should have been done by the senior superintendent before lodging the case,” Riaz said, “but here the police have extracted a confession from Shafqat which is illegal.”
When the then-EU Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Jan Figel, visited Pakistan to discuss Asia Bibi’s case in December 2017, he told Pakistani officials that the renewal of the country’s export privileges to Europe depended on Asia Bibi’s release. It was only after Asia’s acquittal in October 2018 (and final freedom in spring 2019), that Asia’s lawyer Saif ul Malook said his next case would be Shaguftah’s.
After Figel’s visit, an interfaith advisory council was established to look at the misuse of the blasphemy law, often used to “grab” disputed land or to settle personal grudges, business rivalries, etc.
The couple was acquitted, in large part, to the European Parliament’s adoption of a joint motion for a resolution in April 2021 calling for a review of the GSP+ trade status granted to Pakistan, and seeking more comprehensive approaches to address abuses of the blasphemy law. The motion specifically referred to this couple’s case.