ASIA/PAKISTAN - Pakistani Christian condemned to jail for blasphemy

Friday, 5 May 2017 blasphemy   religious minorities   religious freedom   justice   islam   prisoners   human rights  

Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - Christian Zafar Bhatti, falsely accused of blasphemy in 2012 and taken to trial, was sentenced to life imprisonment by a court in Rawalpindi. This is what Agenzia Fides learns from local sources. Bhatti had been charged under Article 295 "c" of the Criminal Code (one of the articles that form the so-called Blasphemy Law) and sentenced for having sent text messages (sms) from his cell phone, which insulted Islam. The Christian denied the charges and explained to the court that the implicated phone card had not been activated by him.
In 2012 Zafar Bhatti was arrested and taken to a prison in Rawalpindi. Considering the threats to his life, the trial was held in prison. The last hearing was held on 24 April and on 3 May the judge issued a life sentence. According to Christian advocates consulted by Fides, Pakistani courts have frequently condemned to capital punishment those who are accused of violating Article 295 "c" but, given the weak evidence against Bhatti, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
As reported to Fides, CLAAS (Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement), which provides free legal assistance to Bhatti, has decided to appeal against the court's decision by submitting an application to the Lahore court. The Christian advocates who defended Bhatti were threatened, hence the need to move the proceedings to Lahore, where the man’s family also lives. According to the advocates, Bhatti deserved absolution for lack of evidence but was sentenced "because of the pressure of Islamists".
Nasir Saeed, at the head of CLAAS says to Fides: "Court judges continue to issue sentences in a superficial manner concerning people accused of blasphemy, postponing the responsibility to higher courts, without understanding how their decision heavily influences the lives of the accused and their families. After a few years his case will be examined by the High Court, and until then he and his family will continue to suffer unjustly". "The Blasphemy Law in Pakistan is constantly being instrumentalized and used to seek revenge regarding personal disputes".
Recently, the National Assembly of Pakistan has approved a resolution calling for measures to prevent such abuses and the introduction of some safeguards. However, such demands have met strong opposition in Islamic movements and parties. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 5/5/2017)


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