A lawyer for a Pakistani Christian man sentenced to death two weeks ago in Lahore for blasphemy told Fox News on Monday that his client did not insult the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, as alleged, but merely refused to convert to Islam.
Prosecutors accused Asif Pervaiz, 37, of sending “blasphemous” text messages to his former supervisor in which he allegedly insulted the Islamic prophet. Pervaiz spoke in his own defense during the trial, denying the charges against him. The court rejected his testimony and sentenced him to death on September 8.
“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,” Pervaiz’s attorney, Saif Malook, said.
“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,” Malook explained.
In his testimony, Pervaiz told the court that his supervisor, Muhammad Saeed Khokher, had tried to convert him to Islam on multiple occasions at their place of work. Pervaiz refused to convert and was eventually forced to quit his job in the face of incessant harassment by Khoker.
“When he refused, Khoker went to police with allegations that the devoted Christian had sent him ‘blasphemous’ text messages defaming the Muslim Prophet Muhammed,” according to the report.
Khokher has denied trying to convert Pervaiz to Islam. According to a copy of the court order seen by Reuters, Pervaiz will “first serve a three-year prison term for ‘misusing’ his phone to send the derogatory text message. Then ‘he shall be hanged by his neck till his death.’”
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan prescribe extreme punishments for anyone found guilty of insulting Islam, the state religion. State authorities may imprison people for insulting Islam, its holy book, the Quran, or certain people deemed holy by the religion. People found guilty of insulting Muhammad may be sentenced to death, as in Pervaiz’s case, although the state has never implemented the death penalty for this crime. However, people accused of blasphemy face threats to their life from Muslim lynch mobs, meaning those accused of insulting Islam are often still killed for alleged blasphemy.
Pervaiz’s lawyer, Malook, told Fox News that he is preparing to appeal his client’s death sentence. The appeal process will likely take years, which Pervaiz must endure behind bars.
“A Pakistani prison is not a good place when you can’t afford to pay the guards any bribes. You can’t breathe properly, and the Christians charged with blasphemy must be held separately; otherwise, they will be killed,” Malook said.
“It has been seven years in the prison for Asif already, and there will be many more as we fight his execution. We need the help of the western Christian world,” he added.