Christian father-of-four ‘sentenced to death for blasphemy’ – lawyers argue ‘no evidence’

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Asif Pervaiz, 37, was handed the death penalty seven years after his workmate at a garment factory in Lahore claimed he had violated Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, which critics argue are overwhelmingly used to persecute religious minorities. Mr Pervaiz’ attorney, Saif-ul-Malook hit out at the court’s decision on Twitter, saying: “Asif Pervaiz sentenced to death by trial court at Lahore for committing blasphemy although there was no such evidence.”

William Stark, regional manager for South Asia at International Christian Concern (ICC) said the defendant could be forced to wait for years for an appeal process to be carried out.

He told “Asif’s legal team plans to appeal the death sentence, which means that his case will be heard in the Lahore High Court. That could take years.

“After that, Asif would be able to appeal the Lahore High Court’s decision to the Supreme Court. Again, that could take years.”

However, Mr Stark stressed that none of the more than 1,500 individuals accused of blasphemy since 1987 have had their lives ended by the death penalty.

He added: “It is not likely that Asif will face the death penalty any time soon given that the appeals process in Pakistan can take a long time.

“To date, no one has been executed under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

“However, dozens have been killed extra-judicially by mob violence following a blasphemy accusation, in the courtroom, during hearings, and even in the street after being found not guilty of committing blasphemy.”

In the past 33 years, hundreds of Christians have been accused of violating Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.

Twenty-five Christians remain in prison in Pakistan on blasphemy charges.

Mr Stark said the laws are often used by people “to further personal vendettas or incite religious hatred or violence against a specific individual or community”.

Mr Pervaiz was accused of blasphemy by his co-worker in 2013 and went into hiding.

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Police arrested several of his relatives including his mother, Naseem Akhtar.

She claimed officers told her they would kill her son when they found him if she did not assist their search.

Days later, police found him and arrested him in Sahiwal, a city 100 miles south of Lahore.

Mr Pervaiz’s family said their son had been pressured by his accuser to convert to Islam, and repeatedly refused.

The defendant claimed to have lost his mobile phone SIM card which was found by his accuser and used to send the blasphemous messages.

Blasphemy accusations in Pakistan are highly inflammatory and have the potential to spark vigilante murders and mass protests.

Mr Stark called for an end to the “abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws” and said “false allegations must be rooted out and punished”.

He added: “We here at International Christian Concern are saddened by the court’s decision to sentence Asif Pervaiz to death under the blasphemy laws.

“We are especially concerned that the death sentence was made with reportedly no evidence being presented to support the blasphemy allegation against Asif.”

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