A Pakistani Christian's wife and family have gone into hiding after he was sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy against Islam.
The Independent Catholic News (ICN) reports Asif Pervaiz, 37, was sentenced to die last month after finally receiving his trial after his arrest seven years ago. He was falsely accused of sending blasphemous text messages.
Pervaiz's wife Marilyn Asif and her four young children have had to flee for their lives since his conviction and sentencing.
"She is in hiding because she feels threatened," Release International, an organization that supports persecuted Christians, told ICN. "She is trying to keep her three sons and daughter safe."
As CBN News reported in September, Pervaiz was charged with blasphemy after his former supervisor at his job in a garment factory accused him of sending sacrilegious text messages from his cell phone.
"This case should have been thrown out by the judge," Pervaiz's attorney Saiful Malook told Morning Star News, adding the prosecution had no evidence and he would be appealing the verdict to the Lahore High Court.
"He has already spent seven years awaiting the court's decision. Who knows how many more years he will have to wait 'til this is over?" Malook asked.
STAY UP TO DATE WITH THE FREE CBN NEWS APP
Click Here Get the App with Special Alerts on Breaking News and Top Stories
Pervaiz has maintained that his supervisor accused him only after he refused to renounce his Christian faith to convert to Islam. He quit his job, but his supervisor continued to hound him at his new workplace.
Malook said his client lost his SIM card a few days before the alleged incident and theorizes that the supervisor found the card and used it to send the text messages to Pervaiz's phone.
Malook is a Muslim who represented Asia Bibi, a mother who was also sentenced to death before her case gained international attention and she was freed in October of 2018. As CBN News has reported, blasphemy under Islamic law is a crime punishable by death in certain countries like Pakistan. Bibi was falsely convicted of blasphemy in 2010. A coworker accused her of insulting Islam after a dispute. The Christian mother spent almost a decade on death row before finally being released.
Bibi now resides in Canada with her children.
"It's tragic that Pervaiz has already spent seven years in prison during the trial, and God knows how many more years he will have to remain incarcerated till the high court takes up his appeal," Malook told MSN. "The worst thing in blasphemy cases is that the accused are left to rot in jail for years 'til their innocence is finally proved."
Release partners in Pakistan supported Asia Bibi and are now helping Pervaiz and his family, according to ICN.
"Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws are often used to target individuals and take out rivals," said Release International CEO Paul Robinson. "A disproportionate number of Christians have been charged."
"Even the unjust accusation of blasphemy can result in extensive legal action and vigilante attacks - as in the Asia Bibi case. Mobs called for her death and assassins murdered key Pakistani politicians asking for a review of the blasphemy laws," Robinson continued.
Christians and other religious minorities continue to be prime targets for abuse under Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
There are around 80 people now in prison in Pakistan accused of blasphemy, with half of those facing life sentences or the death penalty, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are widespread and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. These accusations are often highly inflammatory and have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests.
As CBN News has reported, some of the accused never make it to trial. Back in July, Tahir Ahmad Naseem, a US citizen, was shot and killed in a courtroom in Peshawar, Pakistan. The assailant claimed to have shot Naseem because he had belonged to the Ahmadiyya religion.