Image: Nawab Bibi armed with her Bible attends Rawalpindi District Court with a BACA officer.
Fears that Zafar Bhatti, Pakistan’s longest serving blasphemy convict could be the first ever to be lynched have increased after a judge increased his sentence from life imprisonment to death.
Judge Sahibzada Naqeeb Shehzad, of Sessions Court Rawalpindi made this ruling despite clear evidence of the innocence of Zafar Bhatti.
No forensic evidence exists for any blasphemy by Zafar Bhatti, in fact every piece of physical and electronic evidence suggests he is innocent. Zafar Bhatti however was forced into a false confession by police in the early stages of their investigation.
Hopes of Mr Bhatti’s release rose when evidence submitted by British Asian Christian Association’s (BACA) solicitor Naseeb Anjum was said to be weighty by the Judge on 16th December 2021 (click here).
However after arguments were heard on 24th December 2021, the District Judge nonchalantly ignored this evidence as she raised the quantum of punishment for Mr Bhatti on 3rd January 2022.
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Read the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom Report (here)
Pakistani pastor Zafar Bhatti (56 yrs) has been incarcerated in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Central Jail since July 2012, when police charged him with the offence of sending blasphemous text messages. He is now the longest serving blasphemy victim in Pakistan having overtaken Asia Bibi as Christians continue to have a torrid time in Pakistan.
On 3 May 2017, Pastor Zafar was sentenced to life imprisonment for blasphemy, a charge he adamantly denied from the outset. He was forced into a false confession by local police in the early stages of his investigation which he later refuted. Rather peculiarly Pastor Zafar’s conviction occurred despite the mobile phone in question not being registered to his name, his illiteracy which meant he could not have sent such a message and the fact no blasphemous messages have ever been retrieved. Learn more and view timeline (here)
Since December British Asian Christian Association, has taken over the case of Zafar Bhatti after an appeal for his release was dismissed by previous solicitors and the window for an appeal to the Supreme Court missed.
BACA also inherited a judgement made by Lahore High Court in October calling for the District Court to review their earlier judgement. They sought that Pastor Zafar’s sentence be increased from a life to death sentence, which is mandatory for section 295C of Pakistan’s Penal Code under which Pastor Zafar was convicted.
On 16th December 2021, Advocate Naseeb Anjum raised serious questions about the conviction of Zafar Bhatti, after points were raised by BACA’s team. Judge Shehzad, iterated to the opposing advocate that the questions were weighty and asked for answers to them to be submitted at the next hearing. This gave BACA, Pastor Zafar and Nawab Bibi some hope for leniency. You can read our submitted questions (here)
24th December, the judge heard the argument of Advocate Muhammad Yasir, the complainant counsel. He simply reminded the judge that the hearing was focused on the severity of the punishment and not the conviction itself, which he argued had been deliberated on at length and a decision made to reject the previous appeal. Judge Shehzad, agreed with his sentiments and gave a date of 3rd January for a final decision.
On 3rd January 2021, BACA’s team arrived at Rawalpindi in the early morning and collected Nawab Bibi for the court decision. However when they reached the court Judge Shehzad announced that the decision would be announced at 11pm in Adiala Jail before Zafar Bhatti, not in the court room. The BACA team were advised to return to Rawalpindi District Court at 2pm to hear the final decision.
At 2pm the team returned hopeful that the Judge would be favourable in consideration of the significant evidence of Zafar Bhatti’s innocence before him. But hearts were broken as Nawab Bibi and the rest learned first-hand that Judge Shehzad had ruled that a death sentence be imposed on Zafar Bhatti.
News of the decision broke Nawab Bibi who when she got home, became distraught and unable to talk, she cried endlessly fearful of the potential for Zafar Bhatti to be killed:
Nawab Bibi, spoke with us today, she describes her anguish:
“I was broken by yesterdays court decision.
“I could not stop crying and praying it was hard to take.
“I returned home empty handed.
“Real criminals are getting bails but our biased courts are still refusing to release Zafar”
Nawab has asked us to share this video today and asks Christians everywhere to pray for him and to ask global politicians to fight his case like they did for Asia Bibi:
Several attempts have been made to convert Zafar to Islam and have him set free on that basis. Each time Zafar Bhatti has outright refused to quit his faith.
Advocate Naseeb Anjum, has also spoken with us, he said:
“I was very much hopeful for the release of Zafar Bhatti.
“The judge has contradicted his own previous judgment awarded to Zafar Bhatti.
“He is not convinced of the penalty of death for Zafar Bhatti but has followed the directions of the High Court.”
He explained further:
“I have met Zafar Bhatti in jail and have explained the current situation of his case.
“Zafar Bhatti has confided in me and has said he is willing to face the worst.
“He knows he is innocent and God will have the final judgement.
“Zafar has signed the documents required to apply for an appeal against this judgment and a second one so we can appeal the original conviction.
“On Thursday, I shall go to Rawalpindi and submit his appeal in the High Court and will take the time to meet our brother and pray with him in jail also”
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said
“Pakistani courts continue to free murderers and rapists from jail especially those who pay a compromise payment.
“However, they have repeatedly refused Zafar bail or an acquittal when no evidence exists of a crime.
“The amount of hatred that has been generated against Zafar by extremists means he has does not have to attend court hearings as the state could not protect him.
“Today’s decision is serious – Zafar can now become the first person killed under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws.
“The courts, the police the Government all seem hell-bent on killing an innocent Christian to appease Muslims who are still incensed at the freedom of Asia Bibi.
“Sadly the universal global condemnation by international governments concerned about Asia Bibi has not manifested in the same way for brother Zafar.
“Unless a concerted effort similar to that which manifested for Asia Bibi is begun by the west, we are looking at a very dire outcome.”
Mounting a defence against the death sentence for blasphemy and his bail is expensive. We need to cover £1000’s of legal fees, in addition to supporting his wife Nawab Bibi who has been under our care for 3 years. You can donate towards our work defending Zafar Bhatti and protecting his wife Nawab Bibi along with many other victims by using the many payment options found (here).
Please sign our petition (here)