Last week, on these pages, I wrote that a court in Lahore, Pakistan, found a Christian sanitation worker, Sawan Masih, 35, guilty of blasphemy and sentenced him to death. Mr. Masih was convicted of insulting Mohammed, which, under Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy law 295(c), is a capital crime. Mr. Masih’s attorneys have appealed his sentence. Several days later, the Honorable Judge Mian Amir Habib in a court in Gojra, Pakistan, handed a death sentence to a Pakistani Christian couple, Shafqat Emmanuel and Shafgufta Kausar, for blasphemy after they were convicted of sending a text message insulting Mohammed to the imam of their local mosque. The couple, who are in their 40s and have three children, are poor. The learned imam, Maulvi Mohammad Hussain, brought a complaint against the couple last July, in which he accused the husband of having sent the message from his wife’s cell phone. However, the couple’s lawyer said the message was actually sent from a phone that the couple lost before July.
Human rights groups have long observed how Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are used to settle personal scores and to persecute religious minorities. Sadly, many accused never go to trial, but are killed by vigilantes instead. The vigilantes are almost never arrested, and if arrested, are never prosecuted. In this case, Nadeem Hassan, the defense lawyer for the couple, said that the couple had suspected rivals of implicating them into the blasphemy case to settle personal scores, and that the rivals had close ties with Imam Hussain.
The town of Gojra, in the province of Punjab, has previously been the scene of great violence against Christians. In 2009, a Moslem mob burned nearly 40 houses and a church in Gojra, based upon a rumored desecration of a Koran. During that violence, at least eight Christians were killed by the violent Moslem mob. As I wrote in my blog about Mr. Masih, The New York Times has observed, “it has often taken little more than the rumors of insults to Islam to incite lynchings and other violence.” The couple’s lawyer told the BBC that he would appeal the death sentence as the trial had not been conducted fairly. Of course, in this case, the result should not be surprising. Under Islamic Sharia law, the testimony of any Moslem, but particularly of an imam, is given much greater weight than the testimony by a Christian, or other non-Moslem. Why would this be true? In an Islamic court, a Christian who takes a Moslem oath over the Koran (“God is Allah and there is no other God”) commits perjury. Thus, a Christian’s testimony in an Islamic court is inherently suspect, as compared to the word of a learned and honorable imam. Moreover, the testimony of a Moslem woman is giving one-half of the weight given to that of a Moslem man (See, e.g., Koran 2:282). And court testimony by a non-Moslem woman is given no credence under Sharia law. I remind the learned Imam Hussain and the Honorable Judge Habib that the Koran 5:8 calls upon Moslems not to bear false witness: “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is acquainted with what you do.” That seems pretty clear. Please pray for justice for Shafqat Emmanuel and Shafgufta Kausar, and their three children.