Lahore – A district court in Rawalpindi has sentenced a Protestant pastor, Zafar Bhatti, 58, to death for blasphemy, in prison since 2012. The Christian leader was accused of sending blasphemous SMS text messages. Zafar Bhatti was sentenced to life imprisonment on May 3, 2017 under Articles 295 (a) and 295 (c) of the Penal Code of Pakistan for dishonoring the Prophet Muhammad and his mother. Before his arrest in 2012, Pastor Zafar Bhatti had founded the charity organization “Jesus World Mission” to assist the poor and ran a house church.
According to a complaint filed by an unknown person, the police arrested Pastor Zafar Bhatti for blasphemy. After investigating the mobile phone number, the service provider revealed that the SIM card number used to send text messages was not registered in his name. A Muslim woman named Ghazala Khan was found to be the owner of the SIM card number used to send blasphemous text messages.
The court tried the woman in April 2013 and granted her bail. From day one, Zafar Bhatti denied the charges against him. He is currently the longest-serving prisoner for blasphemy and the first to receive a death sentence, upheld by the court on January 3.
Ilyas Samuel, a Christian human rights activist, showing Fides his dismay at the unjustified death sentence of Zafar Bhatti, says: “It is sad to hear this news. I am sorry that the misuse of blasphemy laws has become so common that it is exercised as a tool of revenge against innocent people”.
Along with Zafar Bhatti’s case, there is another that shows a glimmer of justice: on January 5, Nadeem Samson, a Christian victim of the blasphemy law since November 2017, was released on bail after four years of arrest, in a sentence of the Supreme Court. Nadeem Samson was arrested on charges of creating a fake Facebook account, in which he allegedly posted blasphemous content.
Joseph Jansen, President of Voice for Justice, told Fides: “We are happy to have obtained bail for Nadeem Samson. In fact, the dispute with the complainant concerned money and property issues. Most blasphemy cases are based on false accusations, stemming from family feuds or religious prejudice. Those who falsely accuse others of blasphemy must be brought to justice and duly punished”, he says.
Muslim lawyer Saif-ul-Malook, Nadeem Samson’s lawyer and former defender of Asia Bibi, tells Fides: “It is a historic decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. This ruling will serve as a precedent to help other victims of blasphemy allegations. Pakistani courts regularly reject bail appeals for victims of blasphemy law, particularly when the allegations relate to Article 295 (c). We give credit to Judge Syed Mansoor Ali Shah of the Supreme Court of Pakistan for not letting religious prejudices prevent him from exercising justice”, he concludes.