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  • » 09/25/2014, 00.00


    Rawalpindi, Christian leader accused of blasphemy murdered in prison

    Jibran Khan

    The 42-year old Reverend Zafar Bhatti, President of the Jesus World Mission, was accused (on false charges) of violating the "black law". He was shot to death died in his cell. In recent weeks he had been subjected to threats from prison guards and fellow prisoners. AsiaNews Catholic sources promise "legal battle" for justice.

    Rawalpindi (AsiaNews) - There has been yet another case of an extra-judicial murder in Pakistan, this time involving a Christian leader who was falsely imprisoned years ago on blasphemy charges.  The 45 year old Reverend Zafar Bhatti's lifeless body was found this morning in his cell in the Adyala prison Rawalpindi. The past and president of the Jesus World Mission had been under investigation since July 2012, for having allegedly violated the "black law", although there was no evidence to prove his guilt.

    Catholic sources in Rawalpindi, speaking on condition of anonymity to AsiaNews of this "terrible story" say legal action "will be publically taken as soon as the autopsy results are in". The sources add that they are also demanding greater protection for those who are on trial for blasphemy. Associations and human rights activists are calling for a thorough investigation to shed light on yet another act of "barbarism" in Pakistan.

    The Rev. Bhatti was a native of Karachi, but in 2010 moved to Lahore's Nawaz Sharif colony where he lived for two years. He worked extensively in defense of the rights of Christians and religious minorities. On 10 July 2012, he moved with his family, to the capital Islamabad. The next day, surprisingly, a complaint against him was lodged with the police in New Town, Rawalpindi, by Ahmed Khan, vice-secretary of the Islamic movement Jamat Ehl-e-Sunnat.  

    According to the police report, Khan received text messages containing offensive language towards Muhammad's mother from a visible number, but not among his contacts. He went to the police, threatening to  rouse the extremist wing if they did not open an investigation for alleged blasphemy under section 295-C of the Penal Code.

    There are many unclear aspects to the case including the charges against the Christian pastor. By law, anyone who violates Articles 295 B and C of the Code of Criminal Procedure also risks the death penalty. However, the offense against the prophet's mother is governed by section 295 A and provides for milder punishment. On July 16, officials arrested Bhatti and his sister-in-law Nasreen Bibi, and during the pre-trial detention, subjected him to torture and abuse to extort a confession, which he never made because he always indignantly rejected the accusations declaring himself innocent.

    During the investigation it was found that the phone number belonged to Ghazala Khan, cousin of Christian leader and collaborator within his association, who also ended up on trial for blasphemy. In December 2012, the woman was released on bail, with the obligation presenting herself at court during the hearings; in recent months, activists and organizations have launched appeals for the trail to take place in prison, for fear of attacks against the defendants who were under constant threat.

    However, attempts to pressure authorities were not enough and last night Rev. Bhatti was killed, reportedly shot to death by the prison officers responsible for his security. In recent weeks he had told his family several times that he feared for his life not only from the other prisoners, but the same prison officers.

    With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia.

    About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).

    Scores of violent incidents have occurred in recent years, against entire communities (Gojra in 2009, and Joseph Colony, Lahore, in March 2013), places of worship (Peshawar, September last year) and individuals (Sawan Masih, Asia Bibi, Rimsha Masih and Robert Fanish Masih, who died in prison), often perpetrated under the pretext of the country's blasphemy laws.


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    See also

    26/03/2007 PAKISTAN
    Demonstration in favour of Christian detainees on hunger strike
    Various human and minority rights groups demonstrate in solidarity with Christian inmates in Adiala prison. Prisoners have gone on hunger strike almost a week ago to protest prison administration’s decision to deny them the right to conduct religious functions.

    26/01/2011 PAKISTAN
    Pakistani Christians: day of fasting and prayer for the release of Asia Bibi
    Sponsored by the Bishop of Islamabad, the event is scheduled for January 30. The same day, Islamic fundamentalists have launched a "national protest" against changes to the blasphemy law. Bishop Anthony: We want to promote "peace and harmony" and the release of the Christian woman.

    06/07/2009 PAKISTAN
    Faisalabad, Christians and Muslims investigating case of young man charged with blasphemy
    An inter-religious committee will examine the case of Imran Masih, arrested and tortured for having burned pages of the Koran and beaten by police. A Catholic priest points out that is a "positive step" to dissolve the tension. Involving Muslim leaders to dismantle the charges against the young man.

    07/09/2012 PAKISTAN
    Paul Bhatti: " joy and satisfaction” for Rimsha Masih’s release (on bail)
    The Catholic Pakistani politician praises work of police and government, which led to the release of the mentally disabled child arrested for blasphemy. He thanks APMA lawyers, the ulema and investigators because they have helped to maintain the peace and justice. She will be ruinited soon with her family.

    24/08/2012 PAKISTAN
    Pakistani Muslims: Disabled 11 yr-old Christian should be punished
    Muslim leader: no one can desecrate the Koran. And the faithful in the mosque call for the application of the "black law". Appeal of Bishop of Islamabad for unity among Christians "around the child." APMA lawyer speaks of "delicate matter" but is optimistic to have "good news soon." Families forced to flee denounce their abandonment by government.

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