Another Christian has been sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly committing blasphemy in Pakistan. Zafar Bhatti was accused of sending blasphemous text messages from his mobile phone and was convicted of this “crime” on weak evidence. Many human rights experts are critical of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws as they are widely abused to settle personal scores or spread religious hatred. Often, those accused do not receive a trial on the merits due to enormous pressure put on on lower courts by extremists demanding all those accused be found guilty, especially in cases where religious minorities are the accused.
05/07/2017 Pakistan – A court in Pakistan has sentenced a Christian man to life imprisonment under the country’s blasphemy law for allegedly sending “blasphemous” text messages from his mobile phone.
After the court in the city of Rawalpindi in the Punjab province sentenced Zafar Bhatti on Wednesday, legal advocacy group CLAAS, which is based in the United Kingdom and run by Christians from Pakistan, said it will challenge the decision, according to the news website Christians In Pakistan.
The court overlooked lack of evidence, the group said.
Bhatti has been in Adiala Central Jail since the accusation was made in 2012. The bar association at the time passed a resolution saying no lawyer would represent the Christian man. However, CLAAS represented him.
“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,” Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK, said in a statement. “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 Center for Research and Security Studies in Pakistan estimates that at least 65 people have been killed over blasphemy allegations since 1990, and dozens more convicted of the crime are on death row.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which are embedded in Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, carry the death penalty, and yet there is no provision to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy. Allegations of blasphemy often stem from the Muslim accuser’s desire to take revenge and to settle petty, personal disputes, according to Christian groups working in the country.