ASIF PERVAIZ

Asif PervaizAsif Pervaiz (38), a Christian father of four from Lahore in northeast Pakistan, was accused of sending blasphemous text messages in October 2013 and has been in prison ever since. In September 2020, he was sentenced to death under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. His lawyer filed an appeal.

LATEST NEWS (JUNE 2023): An appeal hearing was scheduled for 8 June and Asif’s wife Marilyn attended court but the judge, while present, did not hear the case. No new date was set.

On 2 October 2013, a Muslim named Saeed Ahmed Khokar accused Asif of sending several blasphemous text messages to his phone. Khokar was Asif’s supervisor in a garment factory named Shami Textile in Lahore’s Youhanabad neighbourhood. Asif says Khokhar put him under constant pressure to renounce his Christian faith and convert to Islam, and falsely accused him because of his resistance. He said that due to constant harassment he was forced to leave his job at the factory but that Khokhar continued to hound him after he set up a small business manufacturing clothes.

Asif said he had lost his SIM card some days before the texts were received but did not request the company to deactivate it. He said Khokhar used the lost SIM card to send the blasphemous texts to his own number and then made the accusation.

Police registered a First Information Report and as soon as Asif heard about the accusation he went into hiding. Police spent a week searching for him and on 9 October 2013 they arrested several of his relatives, including two brothers-in-law and his mother Naseem Akhtar. His mother said police told her they would kill Asif when they found him unless she helped them find him. She led them to the home of his brother Waseem Anwar and they beat him until he confessed to knowing where Asif was hiding.

On 10 October 2013 police arrested Asif and registered blasphemy charges against him under sections 295-A, 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal code at Green Town Police Station in Lahore. Section 295-C deals with defamation of the prophet Mohammed and carries a mandatory death sentence.

He was imprisoned in Lahore District Jail, where he waited almost seven years for his case to come to trial. In the jail he shared a small cell with two Muslims who, he said, “create a big harm and they don’t allow me to sleep”. He was permitted to have a Bible and read it nine times during his imprisonment in Lahore. He read the Bible daily with a blind Christian prisoner named Inderyas (Andrew), also a victim of the blasphemy laws, who became Asif’s “student”.

Sentenced to death

On 8 September 2020 Judge Mansoor Ahmed Qureshi of the Additional Sessions Court in Lahore ruled that Asif would first serve a three-year prison term for phone misuse, be fined 50,000 rupees (approximately €250) and be “hanged by his neck till his death”.

On 9 September Asif’s lawyer Saiful Malook, who also represented Asia Bibi, tweeted: “Asif Pervaiz sentenced to death by trial court at Lahore for committing blasphemy although there was no such evidence.” The lawyer filed an appeal at the Lahore High Court on 14 September.

Saiful Malook told Morning Star News, “It’s tragic that Pervaiz has already spent seven years in prison during the trial, and God knows how many more years he will have to remain incarcerated till the high court takes up his appeal. The worst thing in blasphemy cases is that the accused are left to rot in jail for years till their innocence is finally proved.”

He said there was no evidence to justify the charges and added, “Although I’m greatly disappointed by the ruling in this case, one cannot ignore the fact that it has become a norm of trial court judges hearing blasphemy cases to convict the accused no matter how weak the prosecution’s case is.

Mr Malook told Christian Solidarity Worldwide, “The evidence on record was clearly not enough to sentence Asif Pervaiz to death… 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. Cases involving murder are usually decided within three years, but blasphemy charges can take up to over seven years.”

In October 2020, Asif was moved to Faisalabad Jail, where nobody except his wife can visit. She travels from Lahore once a month to visit him, which a local pastor said is “a real challenge for her“. Faisalabad is over 120 km from Lahore and the round trip takes ten hours, sometimes for only an hour with Asif. He is being held alone in a death cell and feels lonely and depressed.

Family

Asif and his wife Marilyn have three sons and a daughter. After Asif was sentenced to death, Marilyn and the children had to go into hiding for fear of extremist attacks – they had been living in Youhanabad with relatives but moved away to a more secure location. In January 2021, a local pastor said that Marilyn was “really struggling in her life with her children” but added that he and his team were helping to support her financially and pastorally.

Besides the challenge of bringing up four children on her own, Marilyn struggles to handle the legal situation and to afford visits to Asif and rent for their house. When they went into hiding the children stopped attending school, but they are now in school and being bullied by other children because their father is in prison.

Timeline

2 October 2013 Saeed Ahmed Khokar accused Asif Pervaiz of sending blasphemous text messages to his phone. A First Information Report was registered with the police and Asif went into hiding.

9 October 2013 Police arrested several of Asif’s relatives, including two brothers-in-law and his mother Naseem Akhtar, who said police told her they would kill Asif when they found him unless she helped them find him. She led them to the home of his brother Waseem Anwar and they beat him until he confessed to knowing where Asif was hiding.

10 October 2013 Police arrested Asif and registered blasphemy charges against him under sections 295-A, 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal code at Green Town Police Station in Lahore.

8 September 2020 Judge Mansoor Ahmed Qureshi of the Additional Sessions Court in Lahore ruled that Asif would first serve a three-year prison term for phone misuse, be fined 50,000 rupees (approximately €250) and be “hanged by his neck till his death”.

14 September 2020 Asif’s lawyer Saiful Malook filed an appeal at the Lahore High Court.

16 October 2020 Asif received a prison visit from his wife Marilyn and Rev Waseem Khokhar of Lahore Evangelical Ministries.

October 2020 Asif was moved from Lahore District Jail to Faisalabad Jail, over 120 km away, where nobody except his wife can visit. Marilyn travels once a month to visit him, which is very difficult, and she has applied to have him transferred back to Lahore. He is being held alone in a death cell and feels lonely and isolated.

December 2021 Rev Waseem Khokhar visited Marilyn and reported that she is “in a great depression” but “very stable in her faith. He read the Bible and prayed with her, and she quoted from Romans 8 v 31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?

26 January 2022 Asif’s case was scheduled to be heard but was postponed.

30 May 2023 An appeal hearing was scheduled but the opposition lawyer did not attend so the hearing was postponed to 8 June.

8 June 2023 Marilyn attended court for the scheduled appeal hearing but the judge, while present, did not hear the case. No new date was set.

Read more about the persecution of Christians in Pakistan.

(Christian Solidarity Worldwide, International Christian Concern, Lahore Evangelical Ministries, Morning Star News)

Photo Credit: Morning Star News