PAKISTAN: Inside Story – the price that prisoners’ families pay

Wives of imprisoned Christians in Pakistan can feel just as trapped as their husbands in a daily struggle to survive. Thankfully our partners stand with them, offering spiritual as well as practical support.


Nawab Bibi R127

Pakistani Christian Nawab Bibi (pictured above) is able to see her imprisoned husband, Zafar Bhatti, only once a month.

She tries to visit him regularly but she has relocated from Islamabad to Lahore, which is safer for her and where she receives more support but it is much further away from the prison.

Zafar, a pastor, was falsely accused of blasphemy in 2012 and has been behind bars ever since.

Both he and his wife now have significant medical needs: Nawab’s poor hearing and eyesight are a daily challenge for her, while her husband struggles with diabetes, which has led to swollen feet, as well as a heart condition and stomach pain.

Arguably most concerning of all, he appears to have lost hope of ever being released.

When Release International visited Nawab with our partner she wept as she reflected on the years they had been apart and the hardships that had entailed for both of them. She is also deeply discouraged because no one seemed to be pursuing Zafar’s case.

At the same time Nawab is under pressure to vacate her home, which is causing her a significant amount of worry. Understandably she wants somewhere that is private but it is not easy to acquire suitable accommodation.

Our partner, Lahore Evangelical Ministries, continues to support her, regularly visiting and providing pastoral and also some financial help.

Zafar was charged with sending blasphemous text messages in July 2012, an allegation he has denied. In May 2017 he was sentenced to life imprisonment even though the mobile phone in question was not registered to his name. In December 2021, that punishment was increased to a death sentence.

Before his arrest Zafar worked selling medicines door to door and would often take the opportunity to read the Bible and pray with families in homes he visited. He founded and led a small organisation called Jesus World Mission to help the poor.

In prison Zafar has experienced pressure from other prisoners to convert to Islam and has been beaten several times. In 2013 his food was poisoned and he was left in a critical condition for several days.

During our most recent visit Nawab asked for prayer that Zafar’s case would be handled well by a new lawyer, that his health would be restored and that he would finally be released.


Hard-pressed on all sides

Marilyn Pakistan R127

It takes Marilyn Asif (pictured) five hours to travel to see her husband, Asif Pervaiz, who is in prison in Faisalabad.

She visits with her children as often as she can but as well as the physical demands of making such a long journey it also costs a lot per trip, which includes buying medicines for Asif and preparing food as well as paying for transport. Because the jail is not easily accessible she has little choice but to hire a private car to reach it.

Like Zafar, Asif was accused under Pakistan’s widely misused blasphemy laws. The case against him was initially brought in 2013; in 2020 he received a death sentence and immediately Marilyn and their children had to go into hiding to protect themselves from militant attacks.

‘Life without a husband is very difficult’

Marilyn looks after four children: her oldest son who is 15, another son who is 13 and twins (a boy and a girl) who are 10. They usually see Asif once a month. His parents also visit but, under strict prison rules, no one else is allowed to see him.

Marilyn always takes the children with her and they are allowed one hour with Asif.

There is a glass screen between them and they can speak only through an intercom one at a time. Sometimes the children compete to be able to speak to their father over the intercom. They are always pleased to see him but understandably leave with a sense of disappointment that they will not be able to be with him again for some time.

Marilyn told us: ‘There is [nothing pleasant] in my life, I am struggling with the children and life without a husband is very difficult.’

She experiences some opposition from the community and is not happy having to share a house with the owner, who does not allow NGOs (non-government organisations) to visit. The children are constantly being asked questions about their father and his imprisonment, which is distressing for them.

When Asif was handed the death sentence, Marilyn’s in-laws forced her out of the home. She has heard that Asif’s father has developed cancer and would like to see him but she is not sure whether that will be allowed.

For Asif too, life in prison is immensely challenging. He has depression and is on various medications. On top of this he has a fast heartbeat for which he is scheduled for tests as well as eyesight problems for which he needs glasses.

Marilyn holds on to the hope that her husband will be acquitted and asks for prayer that another court hearing would happen soon – the last one was in April 2023. She also asks for God’s help for her and the children.

Thanks to the generosity of Release International supporters, our partners have been able to assist Marilyn financially so she can visit Asif as well as provide for the basic needs of the family.


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