Tuesday, June 8, 2021

RLPB 601. Pakistan: Acquitted but still imperilled.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 601 | Wed 9 June 2021
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DIARY
Saturday 12 June: Algeria's parliamentary election. Please pray for the Church in Algeria.

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PAKISTAN: ACQUITTED BUT STILL IMPERILLED
by Elizabeth Kendal

top: Shafqat and Shagufta (undated),
children: Danish, Zain, Sara, Yeshua (2016)

On Thursday 3 June the Lahore High Court accepted the appeal of Christians Shafqat Emmanuel (49) and his wife Shagufta Kausar (52) and acquitted them of the charge of blasphemy. Arrested in 2013, the illiterate couple were accused of sending blasphemous English language text messages to a local Islamic cleric. While the phone did belong to Shagufta, it had been missing for a month and sources suspect a spiteful neighbour might have framed the couple. Shafqat and Shagufta were sentenced to death in 2014 on the basis of Shafqat's 'confession', which he provided when police threatened to torture his wife. This was after their torture of Shafqat had proved unsuccessful [see RLPB 568 (23 Sep 2020)]. According to the couple's attorney, Saif ul-Malook (who also represented Asia Bibi), the couple were acquitted on the basis of 'adulterated evidence and manipulated testimonies of the prosecution witnesses'. Malook's main concern now is the family's safety. A source in the government told Morning Star News (MSN) that security agencies have been directed to ensure protection of the couple and their lawyer. Regardless, Shafqat, Shagufta and their four children will need asylum abroad.

Along with competent and trustworthy security, the most immediate need is that of medical care. Partially paralysed and confined to a wheelchair since fracturing his backbone in 2004, Shafqat has spent most of the past eight years confined to a prison bed with minimal assistance or medical care. Visitors have reported seeing him 'covered in bedsores'; many thought he would die in prison. In April 2021 Amnesty International reported: 'The health of Shafqat Emmanuel … is rapidly deteriorating … his pain is worsening every day. In March, his family alleges, he was in a coma for three days and was not taken to the hospital.' Separated from each other and their four children, both Shafqat and Shagufta have struggled with depression. Speaking to MSN, Bishop Azad Marshall, president of the Church of Pakistan, said, 'While it is heartening to note that the court has delivered justice after eight years, our hearts are weeping over the suffering the poor family has endured all these years. This atrocity in the name of religion must end now. Mere allegations are enough to destroy the lives of the accused and their families, and it's time the Pakistani government deals with this critical issue [problematic blasphemy law] on priority.'

Asia Bibi's acquittal met with three days of protest.
(RFE/RL, 2 November 2018 - includes video

Dealing with Pakistan's blasphemy law - Penal Code, Chapter XV (offences relating to religion), Article 295 - has always proved extremely difficult. Attempts to amend the legislation are normally met with death threats, assassinations, destructive riots, and paralysing 'sit-ins' courtesy of Pakistan's inordinately powerful Islamic fundamentalists. Bishop Marshall believes that nobody should be permitted to register a police report of blasphemy before the accusation has been thoroughly investigated by an independent and impartial authority. He also believes that the law should mandate harsh punishments for those found to have issued vexatious accusations and provided false witness. The fact that it does not, means impunity reigns.

In December 2017 the European Union (EU) warned Pakistan that its GSP+ Trade Agreement with the EU - which removes import duties (enabling Pakistan to earn billions of dollars of trade income) - would be at risk should Asia Bibi be denied justice. By linking its moral stance against injustice to its considerable economic leverage, the EU has played a major role in securing justice for Asia Bibi, shining a spotlight on the blasphemy law and helping victims like Shafqat and Shagufta. Determined to maintain its pressure on Pakistan, the EU passed a motion in April 2021 to review Pakistan's GPS+ trade status. While the EU's action is right and good, nobody should be tempted to put their faith in politics. God expects those in authority to 'speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy' (Proverbs 31:8,9 NIV). Whilst we are obliged to encourage them to do so - through our advocacy - we'd be foolish to put our faith there. 'It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man' or 'princes' (Psalm 118:8,9 ESV). After all, the EU might matter today but not tomorrow and unless the Lord builds the house, we labour in vain (Psalm 127:1). And so we pray!

PLEASE GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD OUR GOD:

* that this long-suffering family has finally received justice in the courts; may the Lord bless Shafqat and Shagufta with healing and peace; may this family receive all the security, medical care and assistance they require; may the family unit - so cruelly torn apart - be knit back together, overcoming all obstacles through God's all-sufficient grace (2 Corinthians 12:9); may a place of refuge be made available overseas.

* for the courage and faithfulness of attorney Saif ul-Malook who has defended accused and persecuted Christians despite protests against his work and threats on his life; may the Lord grant him the greatest gift and open his heart to receive the Gospel.

* for the courage and moral conviction displayed by Justice Shahbaz Ali Rizvi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh who ruled rightly, despite threats and intimidation from Islamic fundamentalists. Surely this courage was a gift from God 'in answer to the prayers of many' (2 Corinthians 1:11).

AND PLEASE PRAY FOR PAKISTAN:

* that the God of all grace will mercifully intervene to bring transformation to this dark, chaotic and needy land; may Islamic terrorism, jihadism and rabid fundamentalism cease; may the blasphemy law, the abduction of religious-minority girls and religious discrimination, repression and violent persecution all come to an end. May Pakistan's Muslims be totally disillusioned with Islam and graciously awakened to the way of God our Saviour 'who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth' (2 Timothy 2:4 ESV).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIAN COUPLE ACQUITTED BUT STILL IMPERILLED IN PAKISTAN

On 3 June the Lahore High Court accepted the appeal of Christians Shafqat Emmanuel (49) and his wife Shagufta Kausar (52), acquitting them of the charge of blasphemy. In prison since being falsely accused in 2013, the couple have been on death row since 2014. Their appeal was handled by attorney Saif ul-Malook (who represented Asia Bibi). They urgently need trustworthy security, medical care and asylum overseas. Partially paralysed since 2004, Shafqat has spent the last eight years confined to a prison bed with minimal assistance or medical care. He is covered in painful bedsores and is seriously unwell; many feared he would die in prison. Separated from each other and their four children, Shafqat and Shagufta have suffered depression. Please pray for this family and for the Church in Pakistan.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com