Even just an accusation of blasphemy can bring devastation to a family in Pakistan. Victims suffer in prison while their loved ones are forced into hiding. We visited two Christian women whose husbands have been jailed to find out what impact it has had on their lives. By Tom Hardie.
Imagine travelling up to five hours to visit your spouse in prison for just 30 minutes. What would you talk about? What would you say? Would all the news you wanted to share be forgotten as you see the tears in your loved one’s eyes? Half an hour is all that Marilyn is allowed so every second is precious.
‘When I go there, I sometimes forget what I wanted to say and ask him and he also in excitement doesn’t know what to say so he writes things down on his hand so he can remember,’ she told us on our recent visit to support persecuted Christians in Pakistan.
Marilyn, who is able to make the journey to the prison only once a month, has been looking after their four children on her own since her husband, Asif Pervaiz, was accused of blasphemy and arrested in 2013.
‘When you or your husband are under a charge of blasphemy in Pakistan nobody will stand with you. Everybody abandoned me. I was helpless and hopeless,’ she said.
What made matters worse was that her twins were only 17 days old when Asif was arrested. ‘I was really upset,’ she said. ‘My two elder children had to stop their education as well and even the owner of the house we rented asked me to leave. I thought my life was finished.’
Following the sentencing Marilyn and her children were forced to go into hiding to protect themselves from militant attacks.
Readers may remember that we featured Asif’s case in Voice a year ago. He received a death sentence in 2020 for allegedly sending ‘blasphemous’ text messages.
Asif’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, who represented Christian Asia Bibi (who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010 and released in 2018) said the prosecution’s case was so weak he could not understand why the judge had ruled against his client.
‘The worst thing in blasphemy cases is that the accused are left to rot in jail for years till their innocence is finally proved,’ he said.
And sometimes, as in Asif’s case, the jail is so far away from loved ones that visits for poor family members become exceedingly difficult.
However, although Asif was moved 100 miles away from his family to Faisalabad, thanks to your support our partners have been able to give Marilyn assistance so she can visit her husband – something that otherwise would be a huge financial burden to her – as well as helping to provide for her basic needs.
At first only she was allowed to visit Asif but now the children can go too, although Covid-19 restrictions made it harder for several months.
She says that Asif is stronger in his faith than ever before and even though his eyesight is poor he loves to read and write.
‘Asif is full of hope and he keeps saying “Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon”.
‘I also am not afraid of the situation because my living God is with me. My favourite verse is in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”
‘That verse is always helping me because I am going through the valley of shadow. And I always have found my God and my Lord with me. He is standing alongside me, so He is my refuge and my help.’
Please pray for Marilyn and Asif and their family. Asif’s case is still pending because no judge is willing to read the case because of the pressure from extremists.
‘Asif is full of hope and he keeps saying “Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon”‘
Sadly, Marilyn’s experience is not unique.
We met another Christian family whose lives have been torn apart by a false accusation of blasphemy.
Ashfaq Masih has been in prison for six years simply because of an allegation made against him by a man disputing payment for business services.
His wife Nabeela (pictured) told us: ‘There was a dispute over money and when my husband asked the man for payment for repairing his motorbike Ashfaq was accused of saying derogatory things against the Islamic prophet Mohammed.’
As so often happens, the accused are arrested and then thrown into prison where they can languish for years without even a guilty verdict being pronounced. And even if they are exonerated they can never go back to the lives they once had but instead are forced into hiding to evade extremists for whom even an accusation of blasphemy is enough to warrant a death sentence.
‘It is very difficult to cope in this society when you live as a single mother’
Meanwhile their families struggle on, never knowing what lies ahead.
‘Without Ashfaq it is very difficult to manage so I work in someone else’s house sweeping and cleaning and we live on that money,’ Nabeela said. ‘It is very difficult to cope in this society when you live as a single mother.’
Thankfully she is able to visit Ashfaq once or twice a month.
‘Please pray that my husband will be released. And pray especially for my little daughter; she is missing him a lot. It is very difficult to answer her questions when she asks about her father.’
- That Asif will be moved closer to Lahore; that he would be released as a matter of urgency; that God would protect Asif in prison and preserve his mental and physical health; that God would give Marilyn strength as she brings up the children on her own. And thank God that Release’s partners are able to support them as they go through the valley of shadow.
- That Ashfaq will be released soon and reunited with his family; that God would provide practically and pastorally for Nabeela and her daughter.
Population: 238 million
Government: Federal parliamentary republic
Religion: Muslim: 95.8%, Christian: 2.5%, Other: 1.7%
Sources: World Factbook, Operation World.
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