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Pakistani Christian couple’s death row appeal delayed after 6 years in prison for blasphemy

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A Pakistani Christian couple who’ve been imprisoned for six years and sentenced to death on false blasphemy charges of sending a text message insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad continue to have their conviction appeal delayed.

Shagufta Kausar and her husband, Shafqat Emmanuel, who is partially paralyzed, were accused by a local imam of committing blasphemy by sending him an offensive text message in 2013.

Maulvi Mohammed Hussain, a leader at a mosque in the town of Gojra in Punjab province, claimed that Emmanuel used his wife’s cellphone to send an anti-Islamic text message. He later claimed other messages followed.

Hussain said he was praying when he received the offensive text message from an unknown number.

The Muslim cleric reportedly showed the text message to two other imams before approaching his counsel for legal proceedings. He and his lawyer later claimed they both received subsequent blasphemous messages.

Police registered the blasphemy case following the imam’s complaint, and the couple were arrested on July 21, 2013. They were charged with “insulting the Quran” and “insulting the prophet.”

They were sentenced to separate prisons in 2014.

“Kauser is being held in the same prison cell Asia Bibi was held in before her release,” Will Stark, regional manager for South Asia at International Christian Concern, told The Christian Post on Wednesday.

“In regards to Shafqat, his medical condition has deteriorated significantly during his imprisonment,” Stark added. “This is because the jail does not provide facilities for him, as someone partially paralyzed. Bedsores and lack of nutrition are definitely issues I have seen reported specifically in regards to Shafqat’s case.”

A final hearing before the Lahore High Court was scheduled for Wednesday. However, the hearing was delayed and a new hearing date will be announced.

Kausar’s brother, Joseph, told the BBC that his sister and her husband are not only innocent, but he believes they aren’t even literate enough to have written the text messages.

Joseph also said his brother-in-law had been tortured and forced to make a false confession.

“He told me the policeman hit [him] so hard that his leg was broken,” Joseph was quoted as saying.

The text messages were also alleged to have been written in English. Aside from being illiterate, Shafqat and Shagufta are not familiar with the English language — written or spoken.

The couple’s lawyer, Saif ul Malook, who also assisted in the appeal of Asia Bibi’s blasphemy case, said the charges against Kausar and Emmanuel are “deeply flawed” and “weaker” than those levied against Bibi.

Although the phone was registered in Kausar’s name, Malook told the BBC that “in their trial, they suggested a Christian neighbor they had argued with might have purchased a SIM card in Kausar’s name and sent the messages in order to frame them.”

In 2014, Nadeem Hassan, who’s also representing the couple at the high court, said the offending messages were sent from a phone that had been lost. He further explained that a “bogus SIM card” had been presented as evidence against the couple, The Telegraph reported.

Hassan told ICC last year that the allegation is “based on religious hatred and is being used to settle personal grudges.”

Before her arrest, Kausar worked as a cleaner at a Christian school. Emmanuel has been paralyzed from the waist down since 2004, following an accident that fractured his spine. At the time of the accident, they were living with their four young children in a church compound.

The children continue to remain in hiding as their parents’ case continues, Stark said.

“Like many relatives of Christians accused of blasphemy, they live in fear that their parents’ blasphemy accusation may cause extremists to attack them,” he added.

Malook said the couple needs the same international support that Bibi received during the years she waited for her appeal to be heard. And if they’re acquitted, he said they will also need to be granted asylum.

While no one has yet been executed on blasphemy charges, people who’ve been accused of the crime have been killed by retaliatory mob violence. Allegations of blasphemy are frequently lodged to settle personal disputes and to discriminate against religious minorities.

Christians make up just 1.6% of the country’s population.

Last year, Asia Bible was acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court of blasphemy charges after she languished on death row for more than eight years. Bibi has since written a book about her ordeal.

Pakistan, a 96% Muslim-majority country, ranks as the fifth-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List. In 2018, Pakistan was also named by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom violations.

The couple’s appeal hearing has been rescheduled for June 22.

Sources: Christian Post

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One Month After Attack, These Churches Are Still Meeting for Worship

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Kenya – It is Sunday, February 14, at 9 AM in Otamba, Kisii County. It is a cool but bright day as ICC visits the sites of recent attacks in Western Kenya.

The residents of Otamba move throughout the community as they head to their respective places of worship. Pastor Charles Mayore begins his service as he always does by leading morning prayers at the Worldwide Gospel Church, a charred, broken building with a gaping hole in the back. Those entering the building sit on borrowed primary school wooden desks or the few plastic chairs that survived the attack. Charles thanks the Lord for keeping the saints strong in the faith just one month after an arson attack that destroyed their sanctuary.

ICC spoke to Charles about how the church has been recovering from the devastating January fire. He narrated the horrific incident, “Our church was attacked on the night of January 14. It was among the first churches to be burned down together with the Seventh Day Adventist Church just across (the street). Neighbors raised the alarm when they saw the flames. The fire was too huge to be contained immediately, but with the help of water from the SDA church, which was also burning, Christians managed to put it out. But we lost everything that was in the storage; chairs, cabinet, registers, Christian literature, tables, and one side of the roof.”

Charles continued, “The first two Sundays after the church was burned down, believers were scared about attending worship. We kept praying and encouraging them, and now we meet every Sunday for usual worship services. Others have not yet resumed worship because we do not have enough chairs. We have been able to replace just ten new chairs against a church membership of one hundred and six. We also borrowed a few wooden desks from the nearby primary school to use as we trust the Lord for new chairs.”

A few kilometers from Worldwide Gospel is the Otamba Pentecostal Church. As you enter the church, members sit in groups, attending their morning classes before the general worship service. Speaking with ICC, Pastor James Ondima, head pastor of the church, said, “We never stopped our usual meetings. Before the security agents could visit and file a report of the extent of the attack, we used to meet outside for services. We did this for two weeks, but now we are back to the church building. We have replaced a few things, although we are yet to replace the scorched iron sheets, interior curtains, the lectern, and other items that were burnt to ashes. The believers have remained steadfast, and we have also seen our membership grow. The new members are convinced that the churches are being targeted for speaking the truth of the gospel.”

Shortly after leaving Worldwide Gospel church, ICC walked across town to St. Augustine Catholic Church Otamba, where the Seminarian is finishing his sermon outside of the church building. Over 200 members are seated patiently in the cold, hoping that their church building will be ready soon. Afterward, the Seminarian had a word with us. “The attackers cut the grill of one of the windows to find entry and set ablaze the items in the priest’s altar. With the help of the Lord, we have replaced everything and also repainted the church. The only reason making us worship from outside is that the Parish leader has not come to dedicate the replaced items. We hope this shall be done in the coming few days.”

It was not just these three churches that were attacked, though. Nyangeni SDA church and the Holy Spirit Church were also set ablaze that same day in early January. Despite this destruction, all five Otamba churches are still meeting weekly for worship regardless of the losses and shock they’ve endured.

The Nyangeni SDA church has been unable to replace all of the items burned inside their office. “We lost a lot of things inside the church office; office chairs, cabinets, Bibles, hymn books, Christian literature, communion vessels, tables, etc. We are waiting until Easter to begin raising money to replace these items, one by one. We do not want to burden the members who are still reeling from the effects of the arson attack and the difficult life during this season of Coronavirus. We can only ask for prayers, and we trust the Lord for strength and provision.” Explained the elder in charge.

When the attackers failed to gain entrance into the Holy Spirit Church, they resolved to burn the church bathroom. The leader, Pastor Linnet, thanked God, saying, “They did not burn the items inside the church that we had sacrificially gathered for many years. It would have taken us back a great deal. We also trust God that we shall be able to build another toilet”.

This wanton destruction of so much property shows the extreme hatred the attackers have for the gospel. It is unclear who these attackers are or why they targeted these churches. Despite this, we want to lift them up in our prayers, asking God to forgive them and to turn their hearts to Christ. Likewise, please pray for the churches that have lost so much. Thank God for his faithfulness and steadfastness throughout these ordeals and that the Christians would more fully know and love Him through these challenges.

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Homosexual event in front of Sydney Cathedral: Believers pray for redress

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The City of Sydney is running a month-long series of outdoor “Sunset Piazza” concerts in the publicly-owned St Mary’s Cathedral forecourt in the inner-city.

As part of the series, event producers Heaps Gay put on their Live N’ Queer concert on Saturday evening.

The promoters described the event as a “chaotic queer variety show” featuring some of the year’s “loudest and queerest acts”.

However an ad used by Heaps Gay to promote the show featured an illustration of the adjacent St Mary’s Cathedral, outraging Christians.

Last week, the city council pulled the ad after a complaint from the Sydney Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher.

On Saturday night, the group of “Christian Lives Matter” protesters gathered on the steps of the Cathedral ahead of the concert.

The protesters chanted hymns and held up religious banners as the Heaps Gay concert went ahead nearby.

Heaps Gay concert ‘makes a mockery of Christianity’
Christian Lives Matter organiser Charlie Bakhos claimed the concert organisers were making a “mockery of the Catholic Church and Christianity in general”.

“Time to really show up and defend our church and our faith. The most powerful way is through prayer,” he said on Facebook.

“Stand united in prayer, pray for them, pray for their conversion and stand in defending our faith.”

LGBTIQ activist Sally Rugg shared a photo of the religious protest on Twitter “for allies to see”.

“As LGBT people arrived for a dance, they were met with a large protest against our existence, under the title of ‘Christian Lives Matter’,” Rugg tweeted.

“I don’t want to amplify this group’s message. But I do want people to see this, because this is LGBTQ people’s constant lived experience.

“We live our lives with constant reminders that many people believe we don’t or shouldn’t exist.”

Last week, the city council pulled the ad after Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher criticised the “insensitive” use of the church.

“The Cathedral Forecourt is council land and not church property. [The] decision about the content of the concert and its advertising is unfortunately not ours to make,” Archbishop Fisher said.

“We have asked City of Sydney to remove the Cathedral image from the advertising.

“It is frustrating and upsetting that St Mary’s Cathedral, the mother church of Australia, has been used so provocatively to promote this event and such little sensitivity shown to people of faith.”

A City of Sydney spokesperson said the council had ordered the removal of the ad to “avoid any confusion”.

“In the lead-up and throughout the staging of [the events], the City consulted and liaised closely with St Mary’s Cathedral representatives,” they explained.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore also said Sydney was a place that valued diversity and inclusion.

“There is no place for hate, intolerance or the sowing of division,” she said.

“As we seek to recover from the pandemic, we will continue to host inclusive, accessible and safe events.”

Earlier this week, organisers Heaps Gay posted footage of the concert’s finale to Instagram.

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