01/18/2022, 16.12
PAKISTAN
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Christian man jailed for blasphemy has life in prison commuted to the death penalty

by Shafique Khokhar

Zafar Bhatti has been in prison since 2012. Despite his claims of innocence, a judge who reviewed the Christian man’s sentence decided to change it to a death sentence. His desperate family is calling for prayers.  He “was framed” unfairly, and “People have made several attempts to convert Zafar and have him set free, but he is strong in his faith”.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Zafar Bhatti, 57, is Pakistan’s longest-serving blasphemy convict. The Christian man has been behind bars since 22 July 2012, but has always claimed his innocence.

He is currently in Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi but things could get worse for him. On 3 January, Additional Sessions Judge Sahibzada Naqib Shehzad overturned a prior sentence of life in prison and ordered that he be put to death.

Bhatti, who founded a small local NGO called "Jesus World Mission” to help the poor, was charged with sending blasphemous text messages from a mobile phone whose card was not in his name.

In 2017 he was sentenced to life in prison under the infamous article 295 C of the Pakistani Penal Code, for the “Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet” as well as insulting the Prophet’s mother.

There are reports that he was the victims of acts of violence in prison.

During a sentence review on 16 December 2021, his lawyer, Naseeb Anjum, raised numerous objections about the charges; the judge decided instead to impose the death sentence.

“Zafar is innocent and was framed in the blasphemy case,” said Bhatti’s wife, Nawab Bibi.

When she heard the news of the death sentence, she “could not stop crying and started praying to Jesus.”

What is more, she points out that real criminals are offered the opportunity to be released on bail, whereas her husband is still languishing in jail because of a biased court that refuses to release him.

“People have made several attempts to convert Zafar and have him set free on that basis, but he is strong in his faith,” Bibi said.

Meanwhile, Zafar is suffering from diabetes, heart problems and frequent headaches, said his sister-in-law, Abida Ghouri, speaking to AsiaNews. To help him she urges everyone to pray for his health and release.

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See also
"We are optimistic," says Paul Bhatti as Rimsha Masih's bail hearing postponed to Friday
03/09/2012
Christian charged with blasphemy released
10/08/2005
New “blasphemy” case, Catholic lawmaker against government
20/05/2008
Government silent as blasphemy law continues to kill, say Pakistani bishops
21/06/2006
Sharia court rules blasphemers can only be punished with death penalty
06/12/2013


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