A court in Rawalpindi, Pakistan upheld the life sentence of a Christian man convicted under the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.
On 22 June, an additional sessions court judge in the Rawalpindi District upheld the blasphemy conviction of Zafar Bhatti, age 56. This decision was reached even though new evidence presented by the prosecution failed to directly link Bhatti with the blasphemous text messages he was wrongfully convicted of sending in 2017.
Sources: International Christian Concern, Morning Star News
On 11 July 2012, Ahmed Khan, a local Islamic leader in New Town, Rawalpindi, filed a complaint with local police that an unregistered number sent him text messages insulting the prophet Mohammed’s mother.
The leader forced local police to open an investigation for blasphemy under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s Penal Code, even though the complaint truly belonged under Section 295-A. A First Information Report was then filed against an unknown person.
On 22 July, police arrested Bhatti and charged him with sending the text messages from the unregistered number. According to Bhatti, police tortured him into confessing to the crime.
Multiple reports link a woman named Ghazala Khan, rather than Bhatti, with the unregistered number from which the text messages were sent. On 11 November 2012, Khan was arrested and charged with blasphemy. However, at trial in April 2013, Justice Khalid Mehmood of the Lahore High Court refused to pass judgment in Khan’s case and instead tried to convince the petitioner to forgive Khan. Khan refused but was released on bail, pending the court’s final decision. In November 2016, Khan died from Hepatitis C.
On 3 May 2017, Bhatti was sentenced to life in prison under section 295-C of Pakistan’s Penal Code. According to reports, Bhatti was given life in prison even though Section 295-C carries a mandatory death sentence because there was no evidence presented linking him to the blasphemous text messages.
The trial court judge gave this verdict under immense pressure because the complainant was an office-bearer of the Islamist extremist outfit Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat,” Tahir Bashir, Bhatti’s lawyer said.
“I believe the verdict delivered this time was also under pressure because there’s no direct evidence against Bhatti.”
Despite the disappointing verdict, Bashir said he is still hopeful that the Lahore High Court will accept Bhatti’s appeal and will eventually acquit his client.
Let us pray.
- Pray the Lord will comfort Bhatti as he comes to terms with this new development. Pray Bhatti may know of the Lord’s presence and protection.
- Pray this time of long-suffering may be used by God for Bhatti’s ultimate good and for the spiritual blessing of others.
- Pray for the church in Pakistan. May the believers be strengthened in their faith and have an intimate dependence on the Lord, as they face opposition and oppression. Pray they will not be fearful.