Falsely Accused Radio Report
In Pakistan, just to be accused of blasphemy can mean the end of everything. If you’re found guilty, it can mean a life sentence or death. And if you’re found not guilty, vigilantes may try to kill you anyway. Or take their revenge on your family.
The highest profile blasphemy case was that of Asia Bibi. She was falsely accused, sentenced to hang and a reward offered to anyone who killed her.
After ten years, the Supreme Court overturned the verdict and Asia was eventually allowed to go to Canada. But there are others like her, whose lives have been ruined by just the accusation of blasphemy. As Andrew Boyd of Release International explains…
Andrew Boyd of Release reporting there on the high price being paid by those simply accused of blasphemy in Pakistan.
Nawab Bibi, wife of Zafar Bhatti: My life is ruined without him.
Narr: Nawab Bibi, sits in a red plastic chair, her head veiled in black. She is the wife of Zafar Bhatti, a journalist who was writing about persecution, when someone sent a poisonous text in his name to take him down.
Nawab Bibi: When Zafar was arrested seven years ago, I felt myself all alone and I thought my life is finished. He is in prison. I am really suffering.
Rev Waseem Khokhar: He was writing stories on behalf of Christians and against persecution…
Narr: Rev Waseem Khokhar is a partner of Release International.
Rev Waseem Khokhar: …and somebody used his mobile and sent a nasty text to someone, and that text was against the Prophet. And this was a blasphemy case against him. Insulting Mohammed means anyone can kill him!
Narr: One of the first to try to avenge this so-called blasphemy with murder was the man charged with guarding Zafar in prison.
Rev Waseem Khokhar: And this man, who was his guard, he attempted to kill him. Somebody gave him poison. And now he said, “When my food enters – they scan it, and they lock it.”
Excerpt of TV report: This mob beat a university student to death in Pakistan. It’s the 2% Christian population that most needs protecting.
Narr: All too often blasphemy allegations are levelled as a way to take out rivals, as this pastor discovered, while he was at work in the brick kiln; harsh work, often carried out by the poorest of the poor in Pakistan, who are often Christians.
Pastor Zafar Waris: There was a feud, says Pastor Zafar Waris. A man connected to extremists challenged me, saying: “Don’t evangelise or we will stand against you.” So they stood against me with a false accusation. When I was imprisoned I had to sleep on the floor without a bed. It was dirty – without food or electricity – it was difficult to survive.”
Narr: Pervaiz Masih was also labouring in the brick kilns:
Pervaiz Masih: “I was falsely accused of saying something against the Prophet, he explains. The district police officer asked to see me – dead or alive. I ran away but they arrested my wife and beat her. They were slapping and kicking her. It was brutal. The time in jail was horrendous because the prisoners were using the toilet in the same place they were eating food. I was just weeping and praying: “God help me, please.”
Narr: It was tough on his wife, too. Pervaiz winces as Zareen tells her story:
Zareen Pervaiz: A policeman arrested not only me, but my father and mother and even my children. They started to slap all of us. We were all brutally beaten. I hid myself in my room, they dragged me out and beat me with kicks and slaps.
Narr: Whenever funds allow, Nawab Bibi fills a bag with groceries and makes the journey by rickshaw and Number 22 bus to visit her husband Zafar in prison.
Nawab Bibi: “I visit my husband every Thursday and bring him some food. If I don’t manage it, he always says, “Please come, even if you don’t bring food, because no one else is there to visit me.”
“I always sing and recite verses in my head and heart. I go to church regularly. I am receiving help from Release partners – they are giving me some money so I can visit my husband.’
Rev Waseem Khokhar: “I asked Zafar, how do you spend your time, because you’re all alone here in one room you will get bored, and what do you do? And he said: ‘I have been in this room for seven years and only once in 24 hours they give us a little walk before the cell.’ So now he is reading the Bible, is praying – this is how he is spending his time there.”
Narr: Zafar is encouraged in prison by another Pastor who goes to visit him, Pastor Asfal:
Pastor Afsal: “‘Brother, you are doing this good. Every day you read the Bible, so be encouraged because the Lord Jesus is with you.’ And when he saw us whilst we were visiting him he said: ‘I am really encouraged because you have visited me”.
Narr: For other prisoners, like Pervaiz Masih, their only comfort has been the presence of God.
“The only thing that helped me, he says, was my faith in God. I had a strong trust in him. I felt his presence. I have forgiven those who accuse me. God will be the judge between me and my enemies.” It was the same for the other brick kiln worker, Pastor Zafar.
Narr: “I used the model of Acts 16 in my prison cell, he says. When Paul and Silas were in prison they were singing and praying. And while Jesus was on the cross he said: ‘Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’ So I am praying that God may forgive them.”
Radio report: Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman falsely accused of blasphemy, has left the country months after her death sentence for insulting Islam was overturned. The case brought international attention to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, with critics arguing that they are used to unfairly target minorities.
Narr: Asia Bibi recorded this message from her new home in Canada:
Asia Bibi: I, Asia Bibi, believe in Jesus. I didn’t do anything wrong to deserve what I suffered for 10 years. I was a prisoner on death row accused of blasphemy. I was granted my freedom through Jesus and I never let my belief weaken. Those who are now imprisoned on blasphemy charges, please think of them. Go visit them.”
Narr: Jesus said that when we visit a prisoner, we are visiting him. Matthew 25:36 ‘I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Release supports those who are visiting prisoners of faith in Pakistan and many countries around the world.