False blasphemy accusations and the ordeal for those left behind

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Even an unproven accusation of blasphemy can bring devastation to a family in Pakistan. Victims suffer in prison while their loved ones are forced into hiding. UK-based Release International visited two Christian women whose husbands have been jailed to find out about the impact on their lives.

Imagine travelling up to five hours to visit your spouse in prison for just 30 minutes. What would you talk about? What would you say? Would all the news you wanted to share be forgotten as you see the tears in your loved one's eyes?

Half an hour is all they will allow Marilyn to visit her husband Asif, so every second is precious.

'When I go there, I sometimes forget what I wanted to say,' she explains, 'and Asif in his excitement doesn't know what to say, so he writes things down on his hand so he can remember.'

'Blasphemous' texts

Marilyn has made the journey to prison once a month since her husband Asif Pervaiz was accused of blasphemy in 2013 for allegedly sending 'blasphemous' text messages.

'When you are under a charge of blasphemy in Pakistan nobody will stand with you. Everybody abandoned me,' she says. 'I was helpless and hopeless.

'My two elder children had to stop their education and even the owner of the house we rented asked me to leave. I thought my life was finished.'

To make matters worse, Marilyn's newborn twins were only 17 days old when Asif was arrested. Since then, she has had to look after them on her own.

After sentencing, Marilyn and her children were forced into hiding to escape attacks by vigilantes.

Asif was sentenced to death in 2020, even though his lawyer said the case was so weak that he could not understand why the court had ruled against him.

Death sentence

According to the US State Department, 35 people were sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan in 2020.

Thought the courts have yet to carry out a death sentence, militants often take the law into their own hands. Suspects who are exonerated can never go back to their former lives. Instead, they are forced into hiding. Militants are said to have murdered upwards of 75 people accused of blasphemy since 1987.

Asif's lawyer Saiful Malook also represented Christian mother Asia Bibi. Asia was given the death penalty after being accused of blasphemy in 2010. She was finally released eight years later after the Supreme Court ruled there was no case to answer.

'The worst thing in blasphemy cases is that the accused are left to rot in jail for years till their innocence is finally proved,' says the lawyer.

Meanwhile their families struggle on, never knowing what lies ahead.

And sometimes, as in Asif's case, the jail is so far from their loved ones that visits for impoverished family members become almost impossible.


Asif was jailed 100 miles from his family in Faisalabad. His case is still pending because no judge is willing to hear it for fear of threats from extremists.

Release International's partners have been able to give Marilyn assistance so she can visit her husband – releasing her from a huge financial burden. They have also been able to provide for her basic needs.

At first, Marilyn had to visit Asif on her own, but now the children are allowed to go too.

She says Asif is stronger in his faith than ever before. And even though his eyesight is poor, he loves to read and write.

'Asif is full of hope. He keeps saying "Don't worry, I'll be back soon".'

'Not afraid'

'I also am not afraid of the situation,' adds Marilyn, 'because my living God is with me. My favourite verse is in Psalm 23, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me."

'That verse always helps me – because I know what it is to go through the valley of the shadow. And I always have found my God and my Lord with me. He is standing alongside me. He is my refuge and my help.'

Marilyn's experience is not unique. The lives of the Masih family have also been torn apart by a false accusation of blasphemy.

Ashfaq Masih, another Christian, was jailed for six years over an allegation made against him by a customer disputing payment for business services.

His wife Nabeela told Release International: 'There was a dispute over money. When my husband asked the man for payment for repairing his motorbike, he accused Ashfaq of saying derogatory things against the prophet Mohammed.'

This happens time and again in Pakistan. Rivals accuse others of blasphemy to settle scores, despite knowing that just the accusation alone can be life-destroying - and not only for the accused.

'Without Ashfaq it is very difficult to manage, so I work in someone else's house sweeping and cleaning. We live on that money,' Nabeela explains. 'It is very difficult to cope in this society as a single mother.

'Please pray that my husband will be released,' she asks. 'And pray especially for my little daughter; she is missing him a lot. It is difficult to answer her questions about her father.'

'Please pray'

'Do please pray for Asif, Ashfaq and their families,' says Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world.

'Please pray that Asif will be moved closer to Lahore, and that he would be set free as a matter of urgency.

'Pray also that God would protect Asif in prison and preserve his mental and physical health. And pray that God would give Marilyn strength as she brings up the children on her own.

'For Ashfaq, please pray that he will be released soon and reunited with his family, and that God would provide practically and pastorally for Nabeela and her daughter.

'Finally, thank God that Release International's partners are able to support them as they go through the valley of the shadow.'