Pakistan judge orders fresh probe into blasphemy case


A judge in Pakistan on Thursday ordered a fresh probe into what he called "dubious evidence" that was used to sentence a Christian couple to death on blasphemy charges, a defence lawyer said.

Shafqat Maseeh and his wife Shagufta Maseeh were convicted in 2014 for sending blasphemous text messages to their Muslim colleagues, lawyer Saiful Malook said. The couple, parents of four young children, denied having sent the messages, and claimed they had been framed after a work-related dispute with their Muslim colleagues, Malook said.

A government prosecutor matched the mobile phone numbers from which the messages were sent with the couple's identity, and used this as the main evidence in the case, the lawyer said. But the couple claimed in an appeal to the higher court that their identity documents were stolen from the company they worked for in the central province of Punjab, for the purpose of buying mobile numbers to frame them for the crime.

Mobile phone companies no longer sell numbers without electronic thumbprints, but this was not the case in 2013 when the couple was arrested. 

Pakistan's blasphemy laws seek death sentences for anything deemed to be insulting to Islam or the Muslim prophet Muhammad. However, rights activists said the laws are used against religious minorities or for personal vendetta.

Pakistan's Supreme Court acquitted a Christian mother in 2018 after she had spent almost a decade on death row following a blasphemy conviction.

The case of Asia Bibi, who now lives in Canada, brought global attention to the controversial laws.    (dpa)


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