PAKISTAN: Christian man given death sentence from initial life imprisonment for "blasphemy"

Pakistani Christian Zafar Bhatti

Pakistan's medieval-era blasphemy laws have shown their dark face once again after a Christian man had his life prison sentence upgraded to a death penalty for allegedly insulting Mohammed, the founder of Islam.

58-year-old Zafar Bhatti was accused of sending a blasphemous text message from his phone.

According to Missions Box, somebody used his mobile to send a text against Mohammed and "this became a blasphemy case against him."

"Insulting Mohammed means anyone can kill him. His guard attempted to kill him and somebody gave him poison," the report added.

Although charged in 2012 and found guilty and given a life sentence in 2017, Bhatti has always denied the accusation.

Christian Today reported that an appeal was lodged by the Christian NGO, the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS-PK), which has been supporting Bhatti throughout his ordeal."

Last October, the case was referred back to a trial court by Mr Justice Abdul Aziz who chillingly said Bhatti should have been given the death sentence instead of life imprisonment.

Bhatti has now been sentenced to death by the Pakistan session court of Rawalpindi and is being held under high security due to death threats from extremists - an irony since the Pakistani state is extremist that will itself carry out the death sentence.

CLAAS-PK has called for Bhatti, a diabetic, to be granted bail and released from prison on medical grounds after he suffered a heart attack in prison last October, but the request was refused.

The charity says his health is continuing to decline behind bars.

Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-PK, said Bhatti is a victim of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

“Since the promulgation of the blasphemy law in Pakistan, the law is oppressive and frequently misused,” he said.

Nawab Bibi – wife of Zafar Bhatti, said: “My life is ruined without him. When Zafar was arrested seven years ago my life was meaningless. I felt myself all alone.

"And I thought my life is finished now. He is in prison."

“If finances permit, I visit my husband every Thursday. I bring him some food.

"If I don’t manage it he always says ‘please come, even if you don’t bring any food because no one else is there to visit me.’ So I slowly make my way to the rickshaw and then I get the number 22 bus to the prison.

“I always sing and recite verses in my head and heart. I go to the church regularly.

"I am receiving help from Release partners – they are giving me some money – so I can visit my husband.”

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