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Illiterate Christian Couple Sentenced to Death in Pakistan for 'Blasphemous' Texts

May 30, 2014 07:58 PM EDT

A Christian couple was sentenced to death in Pakistan for committing "blasphemy" via text messages. However, lawyers say this will appeal the ruling, as both the man and woman are illiterate.

"We are seriously concerned. Cases like these are common and cause great suffering. We continue to pray, while the issue remains unresolved," Fr. Aloysius Roy, Superior of the Pakistani province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, told Fides News Agency in a report on Monday.

"We express our solidarity, but Christians keep a low profile, because life is full of difficulties and dangers, and for us the first commandment is to survive. Christians are afraid and they move with extreme caution."

Shafqat Emmanuel is reportedly disabled, and his wife, Shagufta Kausar works as a waitress and is unable to read. Both were arrested in July of last year and sentenced to death last month.

Fr. Roy stated, "From the government we expect respect for the law, the rule of law and freedom of worship provided for in the Constitution."

The couple's lawyer say that the Sim card from the phone containing the messages was not registered in the couples name. While the contents of the texts have not been released, lawyers argue that the couple could not possibly have sent the messages, as the couple is illiterate.

William Stark, International Christian Concern's regional manager for South Asia, told the Christian Post that Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws make criticizing Islam punishable by death.

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"Since the blasphemy laws were enacted in 1986, Christians and other religious minorities have been disproportionately accused and convicted of blasphemy. In 2013, 36 individuals were accused of blasphemy in Pakistan," he stated.

"Of that 36, 30 were religious minorities, 12 of which were Christians. Given that Christians only make up 2% of Pakistan's population, the fact that one third of blasphemy accusations made in 2013 were leveled against Christians is telling."

Humanitarian group World Vision in Progress said that it will look after the couple's four minor children.

"If a bold step would not be taken from the Christian community soon then it would become impossible for them to live in Pakistan," the organization has said.

Pakistan is notorious for its oppression of Christians, which make up a mere 2% of the country's population.

Earlier this week, Pakistani police stood by and watched as a Christian woman was stoned to death by her family members because she married a man they did not approve of. Police officials defended the murder, calling it an "honor killing."

Last year, Christians protested across Pakistan to demand better protection after a devastating double suicide bombing at a church killed more than 80 people-yet no one came to their aid.

"As Pakistan continues to become more and more religiously fundamental, the abuses visited upon the Christian community will likely only get worse," Stark said.

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