Pakistan on Friday denounced a decision by the European Parliament, which a day earlier passed a resolution demanding Islamabad allow freedom for religious minorities and called on the EU to reconsider the South Asian country’s preferential trade status.
The European Parliament called on Islamabad to release a Christian couple – Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel – who have been on death row since 2014. Both were found guilty of insulting the Prophet of Islam Muhammad.
He also urged Pakistani authorities to repeal the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, provide Kausar and Emmanuel with necessary medical treatment and “immediately and unconditionally” overturn their death sentences.
He also expressed concern at the increase in online and other attacks against journalists and human rights activists and called on Pakistan to take measures to ensure their safety.
Under Pakistani blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting Islam can be sentenced to death if found guilty. The simple accusation of blasphemy can cause riots and incite mobs to violence and murder.
The Foreign Ministry in Islamabad issued a statement expressing the government’s disappointment with the European resolution, saying it “reflects a lack of understanding in the context of blasphemy laws and associated religious sensitivities in Pakistan – and in the Muslim world in general. ”
Kausar and Emmanuel were arrested in 2013 on suspicion of sending a blasphemous text message to a local cleric in eastern Punjab province, an allegation they denied. The two were tried and sentenced to death in 2014. Since then, their appeals have been pending before the High Court in Lahore.
According to national and international human rights groups, allegations of blasphemy in Pakistan have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.
A Punjab governor was killed by his own guard in 2011 after defending a Christian, Aasia Bibi, accused of blasphemy. She was acquitted after spending eight years in the death row and left Pakistan for Canada to join her family after receiving threats.