Pakistani Christian sentenced to life imprisonment for blasphemy
On May 3, Christian Zafar Bhatti, who was falsely charged under the blasphemy law, was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Pakistani court.
Bhatti was 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 his case was conducted in Adiala central 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.
CLAAS, who is providing free legal aid to Bhatti, has decided to appeal against the session court’s decision to the Lahore high court.
In 2012 Islamabad, the lawyers’ bar passed a resolution that no lawyer will represent Bhatti in the court, but CLAAS accepted his responsibility.
Keeping in view the threats to his and our own lawyers’ for representing him in the court, CLAAS tried to move his case to Lahore but the court denied this request.
Since then CLAAS’s lawyer and our supporting team has been traveling from Lahore to Rawalpindi to visit him and his family. CLAAS has also been supporting his family since he has been in prison, and his children are going to school.
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.
He said: “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 realising how their decision will impact the accused and their families’ lives.
“CLAAS is going to appeal against the lower court’s decision and believes Bhatti is innocent and will be freed by the higher court. But it will take several years for his case to be heard by the High court, and until then he and his family will continue suffering needlessly.
“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.”
Recently Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a resolution to prevent its abuse through introducing safeguards. However, all such calls have faced strong opposition in the past, those who 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 in broad daylight for demanding changes in the blasphemy law, as their acts was considered equal to blasphemy by Islamists.
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.