LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — A Pakistani court Wednesday adjourned without hearing a much-awaited appeal from a Christian couple facing the death penalty for the last seven years after being convicted of blasphemy, a defense lawyer said.
Lawyer Saiful Malook said the couple’s appeal wasn’t heard before the court’s session ended. He is seeking the release and overturning of death penalty sentences for Shagufta Kausar and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel. The two were convicted of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
The court set no new date to hear the case, which has drawn international attention, but Malook said he would apply for a new hearing date.
“I have an impression as if the judges don’t want to hear this case due to unexplained reasons,” he said.
The couple was 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 by a court in 2014. Since then, their appeals have been pending in the Lahore High Court.
The development comes hours after Amnesty International asked Pakistani authorities to immediately release the Christian couple.
In a statement, Samira Hamidi, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for South Asia, also asked Pakistan to “urgently repeal its blasphemy laws that have been flagrantly abused and caused an immeasurable amount of harm.”
Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting Islam or other religious figures can be sentenced to death if found guilty. While authorities have yet to carry out a death sentence for blasphemy, just the accusation of blasphemy can cause riots in Pakistan.
According to domestic and international human rights groups, blasphemy allegations in Pakistan have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and to settle personal scores.
A Punjab governor was killed by his own guard in 2011 after he defended a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy. She was acquitted after spending eight years on death row and left Pakistan for Canada to join her family after receiving threats.
Associated Press writer Asim Tanveer contributed to this story from Multan, Pakistan.