Yet another Pakistani travesty of justice!
CLAAS, a religious freedom advocacy group updated Voice of the Persecuted on the case of Zafar Bhatti, a Christian in Pakistan who was falsely charged of blasphemy and now sentenced to life imprisonment by a Pakistani court on May 3, 2017.
Bhatti had been charged under blasphemy law section 295C and telegraph act section 25D in 2012 for sending blasphemous text messages from his mobile phone, which is according to reports was not registered to his name. He denies the charges.
Since 2012, he has been imprisoned in Adiala Central Jail Rawalpindi. Considering the threats to his life, the case was conducted in the jail on April 24 but the judgment was reserved for later dates. On May 3, the Additional session judge jailed him for life.
Usually courts hand down a death sentence to those who are charged under 295-C, but because there was no concrete evidence against Bhatti, he was sentenced to life imprisonment instead.
In 2012 Islamabad, the lawyers’ bar passed a resolution that no lawyer will represent Bhatti in the court, but CLAAS accepted his responsibility. They’re also helping to care for his family.
Due to threats against the accused and their lawyers, CLAAS tried to move the case to Lahore but the request was denied.
Nasir Saeed, director CLAAS-UK said it is very unfortunate that even though there was not enough evidence against Bhatti, instead of freeing him, the court has sentenced him to life imprisonment because of pressure from Islamists.
“The blasphemy law is continuously being misused in Pakistan to take revenge and settle personal scores. Christians are the most targeted group, and several Christians have been burnt alive, and even their towns and churches are often attacked and set to fire.”
“The lower court’s judges always hesitate to make decisions on the merit, or free people accused of blasphemy, and instead transfer their burden to the higher court without realizing how their decision will impact the accused and their families’ lives.”
CLAAS says they will appeal against the lower court’s decision to the Lahore high court. They believe Bhatti is innocent and will be freed by the higher court. Unfortunately, it will take several years for his case to be heard by the High Court.
Please pray for Bhatti and his family who are suffering needlessly.
Recently Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a resolution to prevent abuse through introducing safeguards. However, all such calls have faced strong opposition in the past. Those who’ve demanded changes in the blasphemy law were silenced and threatened with death. The governor of Punjab Salman Taseer and Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti were savagely killed, as their acts were considered equal to blasphemy by hardliners.
Nevertheless, this latest resolution is clearly something to be welcomed and another reason to continue praying for the repeal of the laws so nobody has to suffer needlessly, CLAAS told Voice of the Persecuted.
Meanwhile, Nabeel Masih, a 16-year-old accused of blasphemy in Punjab, has just been denied bail for the second time. He has been in jail since September after being accused of ‘liking’ on Facebook an allegedly blasphemous post. Nabeel’s friends say he’s been framed.
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Ashfaq Masih, a Christian bicycle mechanic from Lahore, was arrested by police on 15 June after being accused of “blasphemy” following his refusal to give a Muslim customer a discount for being a “holy man”. Police have officially registered a case against him, but at the time of writing it is not known if the allegations will result in Ashfaq facing criminal prosecution.
In early July, Pakistan’s Interior Minister met with Facebook’s Vice President of Global Public as the Pakistani government continued its efforts to introduce what would amount to a global Islamic blasphemy law on social media. They discussed “steps and actions being taken [by Facebook] to remove blasphemous content that is illegal in Pakistan”, and the Minister later affirmed “the understanding shown by Facebook … and the cooperation being extended to us on these issues”.
Last month, Pakistani authorities handed down the death sentence to a Shia Muslim man for posting “blasphemous” statements on social media, while a 16-year-old Christian boy from Punjab is currently being held in jail and denied bail after being accused of liking and sharing a post which “insulted” the Kaaba in Mecca, the holiest Islamic site in the world.
Pray for Ashfaq Masih, who appears to be the latest victim in another case of Pakistan’s infamous “blasphemy” laws being used to settle personal grudges against the vulnerable Christian minority. Pray that the authorities will not give credence to the allegation against him and that he will be able to return safely to work. Pray that the people who run Facebook will not bow to demands to limit freedom of speech, which would amount to the creation of an online Islamic blasphemy law.