10/01/2014, 00.00
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Rawalpindi: a phone call from police behind (false) rumours about Zafar Bhatti's death

by Jibran Khan
Naureen, the pastor's sister, says police told the family about his murder in cell and then denied them the right to view the body. A church in the city conducted a funeral service. Family and Christian leaders met him in prison yesterday, and found him alive and in good health.

Rawalpindi (AsiaNews) - "I received a call from the police and they told me that my brother had been killed in prison," Naureen Bhatti, sister of Rev Zafar Bhatti, told AsiaNews as she explained yesterday's announcement of his "murder in prison". Once alerted, the family "raced to the prison" to see the victim's body and find out how he died; however, prison guards prevented them from identifying the alleged body.

The news, which turn out to be false, began circulating on Pakistani and international media, with activists and high-ranking Christian officials slamming the murder after the police called the family to announce his death and subsequently banned them from viewing the body.

Yesterday, Zafar Bhatti's family and the Church of Rawalpindi met him in prison, confirming that the clergyman is alive and in good health.

The attack in Bhatti's cell last week was aimed at his cellmate, Muhammad Asghar, a British Ahmadi also accused of blasphemy. Asghar and Bhatti shared the same cell on Level 4 in the Adyala Jail. A prison guard, who said he acted on "divine inspiration", seriously wounded him.

Reports about Bhatti's death spread fast, picked up by many phoney human rights groups claiming to defend the Christian leader and plead on his behalf in court. Even the local Church thought he had died. A Rawalpindi parish even held a funeral service in his memory.

Meanwhile, Bhatti's trial was scheduled to resume today but the hearing was cancelled because it is unclear represents the accused.

His family complain that for months no lawyer has dared defend him even though many organisations said they were committed to his release.

"There is no more time for games," a local Catholic source said. The issue must be settled because "Bhatti has suffered enough and the family has gone through a terrible time."

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