A Pakistani Christian has been sentenced to death for a 2013 incident in which he allegedly sent blasphemous text messages to a work colleague. Asif Pervaiz, 37, was found guilty in Lahore on Tuesday after being accused of sending the messages to his Muslim supervisor.
The defendant's lawyer, Saif-ul-Malook, who represented Christian mother Asia Bibi during her high-profile blasphemy case in 2018, insists that there is no evidence to suggest Pervaiz committed the crime. Instead, Malook claims that Asif's supervisor had unsuccessfully attempted to convert him to Islam after Asif quit his job at the factory,
"The complainant was a supervisor in a hosiery factory where Asif was working under him," Malook told Al Jazeera. "He denied the allegations and said that this man was trying to get him to convert to Islam."
Asif claims that when he refused to abandon his Christian beliefs, his boss accused him of sending the blasphemous texts.
Malook is set to launch an appeal against the sentencing.
There are currently 25 Christian imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan - a nation governed by a draconian Islamic penal code which has seen many believers arrested and tried on bogus charges related to insulting the prophet Muhammad. Prominent political figures who have spoken out in support of reforming the law have been subject to harassment, intimidation and even assassination.
The former governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was gunned down by his own security guard in 2011 for openly supporting a repeal of the blasphemy laws following Asia Bibi's conviction. Just a couple of months later, Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was shot dead near his residence in Islamabad due to his voiced support for Bibi and opposition to the laws.
In relation to the latest case, International Christian Concern's (ICC) Regional Manager, William Stark, said, ICC was "saddened by the court’s decision to sentence Asif Pervaiz to death under the blasphemy laws" and concerned that the death sentence was made with "reportedly no evidence being presented to support the blasphemy allegation against Asif".
Stark added: "The abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws must be curbed and false allegations must be rooted out and punished. Too often these laws have been a tool in the hands of extremists seeking to stir up religiously motivated violence against minority communities.
"Without real reform, religious minorities, including Christians, will face more false blasphemy accusations and the extreme violence that often accompanies these accusations.”