Catholic couple falsely accused of blasphemy is free

Catholic couple falsely accused of blasphemy is free
Photo: Catholic Rosery Beads. Source: © Mary Hope Kelly 101/Flickr, 2011.


Kirsten O’Connell

Pakistan and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

Vatican News reported yesterday that a Catholic couple in Pakistan falsely accused of blasphemy in 2013 was released in 2021 by the Lahore High Court. Shagufta Emmanuel shares her experience with the Pontifical Foundation as she expresses gratitude for the support she and her family received. In July 2013, Shagufta and Shafqat Emmanuel, a Catholic couple in Mian Channu, a small town 155 miles south of Lahore, Pakistan, were arrested on false charges of blasphemy. After eight years on death row, separated from each other and from their four children, they were finally released on 3rd July 2021 by the Lahore High Court. 

Shagufta shares her story: “[I]n July 2013, we were terrified to see several police vans pull up, with dozens of officers. They raised our house and arrested my husband and I on charges of blasphemy in the form of an offensive message about Mohammed, sent via our mobile SIM card. The phone was registered in my name and was used by my husband as well. The offending message was written in English, a language neither my husband nor I speak or read. We were kept in police custody for one night; the next day we were transferred to jail. In jail, we were tortured. The officers told my husband that if he did not confess, they would rape me in front of him, and so he confessed, even though we were both innocent. We were in jail for eight months before a judge found us guilty and sentenced us to death. Our lawyer was not allowed to complete his closing arguments, and neither of us was heard. I fainted when I heard this judgement of death. This sentencing was a great blow to us and to our family and shocked the whole Christian community in Pakistan.” 

“Shafqat was taken to the Faisalabad Jail, while I was taken to a cell on death row in Multan. We were on death row for a long time. You can imagine how hard this was on my children, at that time my sons were 13, 10, and 7 years old and my daughter was onl6 5 years old. They had to keep moving and spent their time hiding from Muslim fundamentalists who threatened to attack them and only visited me every five or six months, for about 20 to 30 minutes. I cried every day for not being with my children. My life was terrifying, and I kept thinking that one day my husband and I would be hanged. Several times I was told that if I converted to Islam my death sentence would be turned into life in prison and that eventually I would be released. I always said no. I will never, ever change my religion and convert to Islam. I would rather be hanged than deny Jesus Christ.”

“Meanwhile, divine intervention kicked in, and very strong voices were raised against our unfair trial and sentence in the European Parliament, by human rights organizations around the world, as well as by the Catholic Church and Aid to the Church in Need. They prayed for our release and offered us moral and spiritual support. My husband and I will always be grateful to all our supporters. For a while, Asia Bibi, who was also sentenced to death on false charges of blasphemy, was my neighbour on death row in Multan. Whenever we met, we used to pray together, console each other. When I heard that Asia was set free, my heart was filled with joy, and I was convinced that one day I too would be released. Finally, it happened, and my husband and I were set free.”

“But how unfortunate it is that, just like Asia Bibi, Shafqat and I could not stay in Pakistan with our family and had to get asylum and settle in another country, because fanatic and extremist Muslims were set on killing us if we stayed in Pakistan. However, we are very happy that a European country has given us asylum and now our family is reunited. We are safe here, and we are free to practice our religion. I hope and pray that these false accusations of blasphemy, which are often made to settle personal scores, will stop in Pakistan and that those who are found guilty of falsely accusing others will be punished.”


Sources and further reading: Vatican News. (2022, May 17). Pakistan: “I spent 8 years on death row falsely accused of blasphemy.” Retrieved May 18, 2022, from