Christian father-of-four sentenced to death for blasphemy

Asif Pervaiz (second right with handcuffs) with Sajid Christopher (far right)(Photo: Tanveer Bhatti)

A Christian father-of-four has been sentenced to death in Pakistan for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages seven years ago. 

Asif Pervaiz has been in prison since being accused of sending the text messages on 25 September 2013. 

His former garment factory supervisor, Muhammad Saeed Khokhar, claimed he had sent several blasphemous text messages. Mr Pervaiz says his SIM was stolen before the messages were sent and that he was falsely accused by Mr Khokhar after he resisted pressure from him to convert to Islam.

Blasphemy is a crime under Sections 295-A, 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal, and punishable by death.

Mr Pervaiz is being represented by Saif-ul Malook, the lawyer of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent nearly a decade on death row before being acquitted by the Supreme Court in 2018 and fleeing to Canada.

Mr Malook has started the appeal process for Mr Pervaiz. He told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) he hoped the High Court would free him, but he admitted the case could drag on for years. 

"The evidence on record was clearly not enough to sentence Asif Pervaiz to death. As usual, trial judges have so far never acquitted anyone accused of blasphemy," he said.

"Sadly, Asif will continue to be incarcerated until his appeal is heard.

"From my experience in the Asia Bibi case, judges in appeal courts hesitate to hear and decide blasphemy cases." 

Christian human rights advocates say that the blasphemy laws in Pakistan are being misused to settle personal scores because of the low bar for proof. 

CSW's Founder President Mervyn Thomas said he was "very concerned" by the trial court's decision to sentence Mr Pervaiz to death. 

"Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws have proven to be a source of suffering for many, and are regularly abused," he said.

"Mr Pervaiz now has to endure further, indefinite imprisonment, given the nature of blasphemy charges and the social interests surrounding it.

"We urge the authorities to allow Mr Pervaiz to appeal his case for reconsideration and ensure that all evidence is carefully considered."

Human rights activist Sajid Christopher Paul told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that many judges in Pakistan are too afraid to acquit Christians falsely accused of blasphemy because of threats from extremists. 

"Judges in the low courts do not feel as secure as the judges in the higher courts. The judges in the low courts do not have as much security as the High Court and the Supreme Court," said Paul, President and Executive Director of Human Friends Organization (HFO). 

"I am not saying the judges themselves say they are insecure but the lawyers and everyone involved in cases such as this say that they don't have the same security so they don't make the bold decisions.

"The Supreme Court can make daring decisions like the acquittal of Asia Bibi because they have high-level security."

He added: "The reason for cases like this is intolerance about co-existence. Christians are falsely accused. I've never seen a Christian commit blasphemy because of our teachings of peace and tolerance but they are always falsely accused.

"I think this case is a violation of freedom of religion or belief and the violation of the rights of Christian people here. He is falsely accused and never committed any blasphemy and has been in prison for seven years."