Pakistani Christians protest the blasphemy laws in this 2012 file photo. (Photo: AFP)
Pakistani Christians are taking to social media to demand justice for a 37-year-old Christian sentenced to death for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages.
A sessions court in Lahore on Sept. 8 ordered Asif Pervaiz to initially serve a three-year prison term for “misusing” his phone to send a derogatory text message. Then, the court ruled, “he shall be hanged by his neck till his death.” He was also fined 50,000 rupees (US$300).
Pervaiz, who used to work in a textile factory in the Youhanabad area of Lahore, has been in custody since 2013 after his supervisor accused him of sending derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad to him in a text message.
The Catholic bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace had been providing paralegal aid to his family.
“Another soul booked. Why would any Christian send a blasphemous text or do blasphemy when they know they will be killed? The government should make crystal-clear mechanisms to deal with this matter,” stated Sunny Gill, a Pakistani photographer based in Thai capital Bangkok, on his Facebook page.
Hundreds of Pakistani Christians who have fled their homeland in fear of their lives remain in legal limbo in Bangkok. Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in deeply conservative Pakistan where mere allegations have led to extrajudicial killings and mob violence.
Nadeem Bhatti, a Pakistani human rights activist who moved to Canada to escape religious persecution, condemned the death sentence.
“His lawyer, who also defended Asia Bibi, now plans to appeal before the high court. Prime Minister Imran Khan should focus more on non-Muslim Pakistanis and oppose rising radicalism. Victims of blasphemy are neither safe in courts nor police stations,” he told UCA News.
“Our country cannot progress or cooperate with other countries without a soft image and a decrease in daily news of persecution.”
Human Friends Organization (HFO), a Catholic NGO that has been supporting the family of Pervaiz, slammed the death sentence.
"A major mistake was that Pervaiz did not report the loss of his phone. He had heated arguments with a supervisor in factory who used messages from a stolen SIM card as evidence. Maybe the judges in session and trial courts feel insecure when dealing with such cases. They even consider evidence that has no relevance," said Sajid Chrisopher, the founder and president of HFO.
According to media reports, 42 blasphemy cases were registered in Pakistan last month, mostly against Shia Muslim activists and eulogists.
The death sentence comes days after a Christian man, David Masih, was charged with blasphemy after pages of the Quran were found inside a drain in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Rights groups say the blasphemy laws are abused to victimize religious minorities or settle personal feuds.