The threat from extremists means judges in Pakistan are too afraid to acquit Christians falsely accused of blasphemy, according to a human rights activist, speaking on the day yet another death sentence was handed out.
Sajid Christopher Paul, President and Executive Director of Human Friends Organization (HFO), spoke to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) after Asif Pervaiz’s death sentence was handed down in the Lahore sessions court yesterday (8th Sept).
He said: “Judges in the low courts do not feel as secure as the judges in the higher courts. The judges in the low courts do not have as much security as the High Court and the Supreme Court.
“I am not saying the judges themselves say they are insecure but the lawyers and everyone involved in cases such as this say that they don’t have the same security so they don’t make the bold decisions.
“The Supreme Court can make daring decisions like the acquittal of Asia Bibi because they have high-level security.”
Christian man Asif Pervaiz was arrested in October 2013 when it was alleged he sent blasphemous text messages by a work colleague, Muhammad Saeed Khokhar, and is being charged under the blasphemy laws of 295A, 295B, and 295C in the Pakistan Penal Code.
Asif Pervaiz, 37, says that his SIM card was stolen before the texts were sent and that he has been set-up by Khokhar because of his refusal to convert to Islam.
Christopher said: “The reason for cases like this is intolerance about co-existence. Christians are falsely accused. I’ve never seen a Christian commit blasphemy because of our teachings of peace and tolerance but they are always falsely accused.”
He added: “I think this case is a violation of freedom of religion or belief and the violation of the rights of Christian people here. He is falsely accused and never committed any blasphemy and has been in prison for seven years.”
The Catholic (National) Commission for Justice and Peace found that in the last 30 years there were 232 Christian victims of the blasphemy laws, accounting for 15 percent of cases, despite Christians representing less than 1.5 percent of the population.
Christopher said that Pervaiz’s wife and young children are inconsolable and that his children have missed vital time with their father as they grow up.
He said: “The oldest child is about 10 years old. The children miss their father a lot. When his wife visits him they ask, ‘why isn’t he here? Why can’t we see him?’
“He’s been in prison for seven years and they haven’t been able to spend time with him. His youngest twins were born when he was arrested and he hasn’t held them in his lap or his arms.”