ASIA/PAKISTAN - For Shagufta Kiran the second Christmas away from her children

Thursday, 22 December 2022 human rights   blasphemy  

Islamabad (Agenzia Fides) - Almost a year and a half has passed since the arrest of Pakistani Christian woman, Shagufta Kiran (see Fides, 31/8/2021) and the imminent one is, for her, the second Christmas spent in prison, away from her two children. Shagufta Kiran, 35, was accused of blasphemy for having forwarded a message on a chat on the social media "WhatsApp" which included content deemed "blasphemous". In a letter written to her children - sent to Fides by her lawyers - the woman reveals that "her physical and mental conditions are not very good". "I can no longer bear being away from you and wish with all my heart to be reunited with you", she reads. "I wish so much and I ask God to be able to enjoy Christmas together with you again, united as a family".
Shagufta's children, as Christmas approaches, miss their mother very much. "Every day at the table they cry and pray for their mother's return. Many of their relatives and friends take care of them, however nothing can replace a mother's love", notes Rana Abdul Hameed's lawyer. "Today they suffer from trauma and depression – the lawyer explains - as they were forced to leave their home after the incident. They live in another place and I am sad and worried". "The crime of blasphemy is also punishable by life imprisonment or death penalty. A year after the arrest, after several hearings, the case is still open", reports lawyer Rana Abdul Hameed. "Shagufta - specifies - faces imprisonment in prison on unfounded charges. She knew nothing of the offending post, she was not the author of that message, and today she bears a responsibility that does not belong to her".
Joseph Jansen, president of the NGO "Voice for Justice" tells Fides: "This is very sad news. While families in the world celebrate Christmas, welcoming the God Child in unity and human warmth, many innocent people in Pakistan will spend it in prison. Shagufta is not the only one: Zafar Bhatti, Ishfaq Masih, Anwar Masih and Rehmat Masih are also victims of unfounded accusations. The abuse of the blasphemy law - called into question for private vendettas, which have nothing to do with the religion - is a violation of fundamental rights, it is an abuse of the rule of law and it represents a serious threat to interfaith coexistence in Pakistan. Defendants often have to wait years in prison before proving their innocence and being acquitted. But their lives are ruined". Jansen invites the Court to conduct "a fair and rapid trial" and the Pakistani government "to address the issue of abuse of existing legislation at the legislative level". "Today the person who wrote the offensive message is on the loose; the one who expressed an opinion on it has been arrested.
This is a failure of the criminal justice system. We believe that Shagufta has been accused because she is a Christian: she is an easy target. We also need to verify, and the lawyers are doing it, whether the investigations into the case have been conducted correctly", notes the president of the NGO.
Jansen notes that the Supreme Court of Pakistan, in a recent ruling, asked the government that blasphemy cases be conducted by the investigating authorities "with great diligence" and entrusted to high-ranking police officers, with the aim of not incurring in conditioning of any sort (see Fides, 14/9/2022).
Among the most recent cases, we recall the story of the Christian spouses, Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, released in 2022 after seven years in prison. The two had been sentenced to death on charges of alleged blasphemy committed through an SMS deemed blasphemous. In early June, the Lahore High Court overturned the death sentence handed down in 2014, acknowledging the plot against them.
As civil society organizations and associations point out, in Pakistan victims are punished for the crime of blasphemy committed for publications on social media, applying the existing harsh penal legislation (such as life imprisonment and the death penalty). Some Islamic organizations stigmatize "the growing threat of spreading blasphemous content on social media" and are urging the courts to adopt the utmost severity on the matter. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 22/12/2022)