Illiterate Christian Couple Sentenced to Death for Blasphemous Text Messages in Pakistan

A Christian couple was sentenced to death in Pakistan on Friday reportedly for committing "blasphemy" via text messages. Lawyers said they will appeal the ruling and fight for the man and woman who are said to be illiterate.

"We are seriously concerned. Cases like these are common and cause great suffering. We continue to pray, while the issue remains unresolved," Fr. Aloysius Roy, Superior of the Pakistani province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, told Fides News Agency in a report on Monday.

"We express our solidarity, but Christians keep a low profile, because life is full of difficulties and dangers, and for us the first commandment is to survive. Christians are afraid and they move with extreme caution."

The couple, Shafqat Emmanuel, who is disabled, and his wife, Shagufta Kausar, who works as a waitress, were arrested in Gojra in July 2013, and later sentenced to death by a court in Toba Tek Singh on Friday.

It was not revealed what the contents of the text messages were.

Fr. Roy stated, "From the government we expect respect for the law, the rule of law and freedom of worship provided for in the Constitution."

Lawyers who are appealing the ruling have said that the Sim card from where the messages were sent was not registered to the Christian couple's names, and have argued that since both are illiterate, they could not have sent the messages.

Humanitarian group World Vision in Progress, along with its international partners, has said that it will look after the couple's four minor children.

"If a bold step would not be taken from the Christian community soon then it would become impossible for them to live in Pakistan," the ground organization has warned.

William Stark, International Christian Concern's regional manager for South Asia, shared with The Christian Post in an email on Tuesday that the level of persecution Christians and other religious minorities face in Pakistan is "easily among the most intense and brutal in the world."

Stark explained that Pakistan's blasphemy laws essentially make it illegal and punishable by death to insult or criticize Islam.

"Since the blasphemy laws were enacted in 1986, Christians and other religious minorities have been disproportionately accused and convicted of blasphemy. In 2013, 36 individuals were accused of blasphemy in Pakistan," he stated.

"Of that 36, 30 were religious minorities, 12 of which were Christians. Given that Christians only make up 2% of Pakistan's population, the fact that one third of blasphemy accusations made in 2013 were leveled against Christians is telling."

He added that false blasphemy accusations against Christians in Pakistan occur frequently and are often motivated by score settling, economic gain or religious intolerance. Women in the Christian community in the Islamic country are also targeted by abductions, rape and forced marriages.

"As Pakistan continues to become more and more religiously fundamental, the abuses visited upon the Christian community will likely only get worse," Stark added.

In a recent case in March, Pakistan's opposition parties and international human rights groups spoke out against the death penalty given to a Christian sanitation worker who was convicted of insulting the Prophet Muhammad while conversing with a Muslim friend in 2013.

The sentences for the Christian couple, if upheld, are not expected to be carried out soon, however, as Pakistan has a de facto moratorium on the death penalty.