London: Zafar Bhatti (56 yrs) has spent almost ten years of his life in Prison and has now become the longest serving blasphemy convict in Pakistan.
Several Christian charities have failed in freeing him from prison and Zafar Bhatti has now turned to British Asian Christian Association for help.
Tomorrow (2nd December 2021) our appointed solicitor will begin a bail application for release of Zafar Bhatti who is a diabetic patients and has declining health. His elderly wife Nawab Bibi (72 yrs) has been supported by BACA for 3 years and is praying for his release so they may unite for a short time while her health hold out.
We believe we will have success where others have failed because as a group we assist our appointed Christian advocates. We provide the research necessary to emancipate falsely accused Christian brothers and sisters and safeguard the families of the blasphemy victims, giving mental and emotional strength to the appellant.
A Pakistani pastor 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 Bhatti (56 years) was sentenced to life imprisonment for blasphemy, a charge he adamantly denies. Rather peculiarly Pastor Zafar’s conviction occurred despite the mobile phone in question not being registered to his name.
Zafar Bhatti, is one of the most unfortunate victims of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws due to the nature and language of the blasphemous texts that were sent from his phone, to a Muslim cleric of such senior status that courts have repeatedly denied him a fair trial.
Mr Bhatti has contended that he could not have read or shared the blasphemous texts sent from his phone for a number of reasons, that make this case a real farce.
He is illiterate and would not have been able to write the messages.
The phone was given to him by a woman named Ghazala Khan (her ID card is known to have been registered with the phone), a colleague who had given him the phone after the text had been sent. She too was implicated in a blasphemy case after an arrest in November 2012, but was released by a judge because she was a woman. She died from Hepatitis C aged 39 in November 2016. It is not believed that she sent the text either but that it was sent by a jealous colleague of hers unbeknownst to Ghazal.
The original voice used to activate the Sim Card (A security check utilised in Pakistan) with Jazz telephone company is not Zafar Bhatti’s. Confirmation that the voice was not Zafar Bhatti’s has already been released and verified by both investigating police officers and the courts.
There are legal provisions under humanitarian grounds that allow for prisoners with severe illness to be granted bail (click here), which have been declined several times, despite Zafar’s failing health (including severe diabetes and a heart attack last year), our appeal will challenge this.
Zafar Bhatti’s health has been declining for some years, due to the harsh environment of the cell and an existing Diabetes condition and cardiovascular tension. Several bail applications for his release based on health grounds have failed, though they have been granted to wealth murderers and rapists (click here).
His loyal wife Nawab Bibi continues to receive treatment for her own health problems including a severe fall – funded by British Asian Christian Association, we also pay for all her living expenses (click here). Nawab Bibi fears her fading health may prevent her meeting her husband outside of the bars that have kept them apart for so long.
When Nawab Bibi became homeless BACA found her a new home:
Zafar has met with our operations manager on no less than 10 occasions. Each time he describes ‘the only solace to my tortured soul, during this hell like confinement, is a weekly visit from my wife Nawab’.
British Asian Christian Association pay for and make those visits possible to ensure this extremely loving couple to maintain the best possible relationship, under the most difficult of circumstances.
British Asian Christian Association has now got a signed agreement from Zafar Bhatti placing responsibility for his case under our authority. We are not in a position to challenge the decision of Rawalpindi Bench of High Court Lahore in the Supreme Court due to a missed deadline by his previous advocates (see timeline below).
Naseeb Anjum our advocate, described the process we will follow, he announced:
“We are going to obtain a writ from Zafar Bhatti himself via his signature obtained during a visit to his cell.
“There is a slim chance that the Supreme Court accepts this writ and we can obtain a date to begin arguments.
“If this does not work we will have to fight for his freedom via the District Courts which will be a harder battle.”
The courts has awarded the following sentences for Zafar Bhatti:
Under section 295-C PPC
To suffer imprisonment for Life
Under section 298-A PPC
To suffer rigorous imprisonment for three years with fine of Rs.10000/- in default of payment of fine, he was further ordered to undergo six months
Under section 25-D Telegraph Act, 1885:
To suffer simple imprisonment for one year with fine of Rs.5000/- and in default whereof to further undergo three months
At this time we are also required to defend Zafar Bhatti from a petition by the complainant submitted by their counsel Mohammed Yasir (36 yrs) seeking Zafar’s life sentence to be converted to a death sentence. The previous defence solicitors failed in an attempt to thwart this petition which has been sent to Sessions Court Rawalpindi for review after being supported by Lahore High Court Bench Rawalpindi on 18th October 2021 (see timeline below).
Nawab Bibi, the wife of long-suffering Zafar Bhatti, spoke with BACA and said:
“I am an old woman now and do not know when I will be called to meet my savior in Heaven.
“All I want and desire in this life is freedom for Zafar.
“He and I have few years left on this earth and hope God grants us some more time together.
“Please take care of my Zafar, I fear for his life and this has tortured me for 10 years”
Juliet Chowdhry, trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said:
“Zafar’s life is in the balance for a crime he did not commit and for which the most flimsy evidence has been used to implicate him.
“The severity of the language in the blasphemous text that were not sent by Zafar, has hurt the sensibilities of judges who are making emotive rather than reasoned decisions.
“That blasphemy is a crime that can lead to death is horrific, but the skewed vision of elite law-makers based on religious fervour illustrates the limited progress made in Pakistan.
“Zafar has broken all records for incarceration under blasphemy laws and may yet become the first man lynched under Pakistan’s despicable blasphemy laws.
“We call for global prayer for Zafar and his friends and family while this immense challenge is fought for him.”
British Asian Christian Association is calling on people of good conscience to contact their local MP’s, Congressmen, Lords and Senators and to seek international intervention in protecting innocent Zafar Bhatti’s life.
Mounting a defence against the death sentence for blasphemy and his bail is expensive. We need to cover costs of around £2000 in legal fees in addition to supporting his wife Nawab Bibi. You can donate towards our work defending Zafar Bhatti, protecting his wife Nawab Bibi and many other victims by using the many payment options found (here).
11 July 2012 Ibrar Ahmed Khan (43 yrs), deputy secretary of the local branch of the Islamic organisation Jamat Ahle-Sunnat, filed a complaint at New Town police station, Rawalpindi, saying he had been sent text messages insulting the Prophet Mohammed’s mother.
22 July 2012 Zaffar Bhatti was arrested against an FIR No. 526/2012 registered in New Town Police Station, Rawalpindi under the alleged charges of 295C/298A and 25-D Telegraph Act of PPC. The FIR was registered by complainant Ibrar Ahmad Khan principal of Aims Education System Satellite Town, Rawalpindi.
11 November 2012 Ghazala Khan was arrested and charged with blasphemy in connection with the Zafar Bhatti case – her Computerised National Identity Card was registered against the phone SIM card in question.
8 April 2013 Justice Khalid Mehmood of the Lahore High Court tried Ghazala Khan but refused to pass judgment against her because she was a woman and granted bail. Ghazala died in November 2016 from Hepatitis C.
25 September 2014 Mistaken rumours circulated that Zafar had been killed in his prison cell.
24 April 2017 Zafar’s trial opened. It had to be held in prison because of threats to his life. Judgment was reserved until a later date.
3 May 2017 On 03rd May 2017, accused Zaffar Bhatti was convicted by Raja Qamar Sultan Additional Sessions Judge Rawalpindi and sentenced life imprisonment for sending blasphemous words against the prophet and his mother. In his statement in the court, Zaffar Bhatti has explicitly stated that he is not guilty of the crime and was implicated by the complainant for ulterior motives.
December 2018 On 18 December, Release International reported that Zafar’s appeal hearing had been adjourned the previous week.
January 2019 The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement stated that Zafar’s appeal would be heard on 12 February 2019.
12 February 2019 Zafar’s appeal hearing was postponed until 5 March 2019.
5 March 2019 Zafar’s appeal hearing was postponed again, until 21 March 2019.
21 March 2019 Zafar’s appeal hearing did not take place because of a lawyers’ strike in Rawalpindi. It was rescheduled for 11 April.
11 April 2019 Zafar’s appeal was heard and the judge said that he was minded to release him but would announce the verdict on 25 April.
25 April 2019 At the court hearing, the judge said that there was no evidence against Zafar and that he should be released. The prosecution lawyer said the prosecution needed more time to provide evidence, to which the judge responded that such evidence must be produced within two hours. However, the police superintendent intervened to say that the police also needed time to produce evidence.
The judge said that he wanted to release Zafar but granted an adjournment to 19 June to provide time for the prosecution and the police to produce evidence, the long delay being partly due to Ramadan and Eid taking up the month of May.
Mehwish Bhatti of the BCPA visited Zafar in prison on 25 April and reported that he was feeling somewhat better. His diabetes is under some level of control but is not helped by the stress he feels. Mehwish said that Zafar seemed encouraged by the report of the appeal hearing.
19 June 2019 Zafar’s appeal hearing was adjourned for the seventh time. On this occasion, it was stated that it was because the presiding judge was due to go on holiday. It is understood that if he had acquitted Zafar, the supplementary documentation requiring his approval could have interfered with his holiday plans. The court set 12 September as the date for the next hearing.
12 September 2019 Zafar’s appeal hearing was adjourned for the eighth time. The judge said that “the decision has been made and everything is prepared” but adjourned the case and would not listen to arguments. The court set 10 October as the date for the next hearing.
10 October 2019 At Zafar’s appeal hearing, the judge said he would not rule over the case as it hurt his Islamic convictions (click here) and transferred the case to another court. No date was set for a hearing.
14 November 2019 A date of 16 December 2019 was set for Zafar’s appeal hearing.
16 December 2019 The judge refused to hear Zafar’s case because of a lawyers’ strike in Punjab province, even though Zafar’s lawyer was present. A new date of 21 January 2020 was set. Zafar’s doctor has said he is in danger of suffering a heart attack – he had two minor attacks recently and the doctor says a third could kill him. Zafar’s eyesight is reported to be deteriorating due to the dim light in his cell.
21 January 2020 Zafar’s appeal hearing was postponed again due to the prosecution submitting an application to the Federal Investigation Agency for a detailed inquiry into the messages in question. A new date of 29 January was set. Zafar and his wife Nawab were reported to be very anxious about the delay.
29 January 2020 Zafar’s appeal hearing was postponed again. A new date of 10 February was set.
10 February 2020 Zafar’s appeal hearing was postponed again. A new date of 25 March was set.
25 March 2020 Zafar’s appeal hearing was postponed because of the Covid-19 coronavirus.
3 September 2020 Zafar suffered a heart attack in prison (click here). He received swift medical attention to stabilise his condition but his lawyers called on the Lahore High Court (Rawalpindi Bench) to grant immediate bail on medical grounds.
7 September 2020 An appeal hearing was due to be held on 7 September 2020 but was postponed for three days and rescheduled for 10 September.
10 September 2020 Following a brief hearing at Lahore High Court, the Rawalpindi Bench instructed the local police superintendent to commission a medical report. Zafar’s lawyer later met the superintendent and was allowed to visit Zafar in prison. The lawyer reported that he was encouraged by the outcome of the hearing and by his visit.
October 2020 Zafar’s court hearing was scheduled for 2 November 2020.
2 November 2020 Zafar’s appeal for bail on health grounds was dismissed and 23 November was set for the final hearing of his case.
23 November 2020 The judge did not hear Zafar’s case and no new date was set.
11 March 2021 Zafar’s case hearing was scheduled for final arguments but was adjourned because of an incomplete forensic report. The hearing was rescheduled for 15 April.
15 April 2021 Zafar’s lawyer appeared before the High Court Bench at Rawalpindi, but Judge Sadaqat Ali Khan adjourned the hearing because a forensic report was still awaited.
June 2021 Zafar was reported to need cataract surgery and Nawab needed physiotherapy following a fall. Church in Chains planned to send money to pay for these treatments.
15 June 2021 A judge visited Zafar in prison to preside at the latest appeal hearing. The judge did not give a verdict but said that it would be announced on Saturday 19 June.
21 June 2021 The verdict was announced, with Sahibzada Naqeeb Shehzad additional Sessions Judge, Rawalpindi, upholding Zafar’s life sentence. His lawyers began an appeal to the High Court.
6 September 2021 The defendant counsel filed an appeal No.1120/21 in the court of Lahore High Court Bench Rawalpindi. Hearing set for 21st September 2021.
21 September 2021 Zafar’s hearing was cancelled yet again, and a new hearing date of 4 October was set.
4 October 2021 Zafar’s hearing was cancelled because the judge retired from the case, which will be transferred to another judge.
14 October 2021 The new judge did not grant bail, as had been hoped, but fixed the date of 18 October to hear the appeal.
18 October 2021 Judge Ch. Abdul Aziz of the Lahore High Court Bench Rawalpindi rejected Zafar’s appeal. He also found the decision of the Rawalpindi sessions court not according to the law in response to petition submitted by the complainant seeking an increase of Zafar Bhatti’s sentence from life to a death sentence. He marked the case back to sessions judge Rawalpindi for review of the original decision and and asked for a report back within two months.
18th November 2021 Delays from Lahore High Court mean that a deadline required to bring the case to the Supreme Court has been missed. So our solicitor is now considering submitting a writ from Zafar within Adiala prison to the Supreme Court.
British Asian Christian Association has now got a signed agreement from Zafar Bhatti placing responsibility for his case under our authority. We are not in a position to challenge the decision of Rawalpindi Bench of High Court Lahore in the Supreme Court due to the missed deadline.