SENTENCED TO DEATH: Christian, jailed for 7 years, sentenced to death for refusing to convert to Islam [#PakistanPersecution #ChristianPersecution] 09/21
In the depths of a squalid Pakistani jail cell – kept far from the rest of the inmate population at Lahore’s District Prison – a poor Christian factory worker is awaiting execution.
A judge convicted Asif Pervaiz, 37, of blasphemy and he was sentenced to death earlier this month.
Those advocating for Asif Pervaiz’s innocence claim it was not blasphemy and that he merely refused to buckle to pressure and convert to Islam.
“This is a tragic situation; the first case in Pakistan’s recent history where a Christian has been accused of blasphemy for refusing to embrace Islam. This man, Asif’s boss, wanted him to leave Christianity, and Asif knew he would suffer a lot by saying no. But he kept his faith.”
– Asif Pervaiz’s attorney, Saif Malook
Asif Pervaiz’s nightmare began in 2013 after his supervisor, Muhammad Saeed Khokher, at the garment factory where he worked allegedly pressured him to become a Muslim on multiple occasions, according to Saif Malook.
When Asif Pervaiz refused, Muhammad Saeed Khokher went to police with allegations that the devoted Christian had sent him “blasphemous” text messages defaming the Muslim Prophet Muhammed.
Muhammad Saeed has since denied that he had attempted to compel his work subordinate to convert.
In Pakistan, insulting the Prophet carries a mandatory sentence of capital punishment, and the court has vowed that Asif Pervaiz will be “hanged by his neck until death.”
However, the defendant has firmly dismissed the claims, and his attorney further contended that at the time, some 7 years ago, anybody could purchase a phone SIM card without showing identification.
While legislation has since become tougher and chips now require registration in Pakistan, anybody could simply claim a text message came from a person without verifiable proof.
Saif Malook is preparing to appeal the death sentence, yet he has cautioned his client that the process will mean many more years ailing behind bars.
“As a person, Asif Pervaiz has always been a special young man – very strong, and he never wept until this month when they sentenced him to death. Mentally, he is feeling broken. I’ve told him that he must find his strength – it is a long journey ahead, that he will not survive unless he can stay strong. I wanted to lie and tell him it would be over soon, but it will be many more years of fighting.”
– Saif Malook
Saif Malook also boldly took on the Asia Bibi case in Pakistan, the impoverished Christian woman who was also convicted of blasphemy.
Asia Bibi’s case languished on death row for almost 10 years through a long series of appeals and threats before finally being freed in October 2018.
Months later, Asia Bibi quietly fled her homeland to the relative safety of Canada as protests over her acquittal erupted in the streets.
And in cases like Asif Pervaiz, it is not just the accused who suffer.
His beleaguered wife – who was diagnosed with cancer – and 4 young children remain in hiding.
Since Asif Pervaiz’s arrest 7 years ago, they have struggled to find food and any means of income – relying on pennies from local Christian charities for survival.
Watching from behind iron bars as his family falls apart is eating away at Asif Pervaiz’s sanity.
“His wife is still very sick, almost like a skeleton, and she fell down and collapsed at the prison while we met with Asif. The children were weeping for their father; they are all under threat. Everyone is scared to be around them; they are a poor family as it is. It was just so sad.”
– Saif Malook, just hours after returning from the meeting
International human rights bodies have long warned that in Pakistan, unmerited accusations of blasphemy continue to imperil lives – and not only within the minority Christian population.
As Saif Malook observed, most of the country’s blasphemy charges are directed at Muslims.
Pakistani Christian, jailed for seven years, sentenced to death for refusing to convert to Islam:
Asif Pervaiz is ‘mentally broken’ and fears for his family while languishing on death row, his attorney says: