London: (By Hannah Chowdhry) Fears that Zafar Bhatti (55 yrs), Pakistan’s longest serving blasphemy convict could be the first ever to be lynched heightened after a judge increased his sentence from life imprisonment to death on 3rd January 2022 (click here)
Judge Sahibzada Naqeeb Shehzad, of Sessions Court Rawalpindi made this ruling despite clear physical and electronic evidence of the innocence of Zafar Bhatti.
No forensic evidence exists for any blasphemy by Zafar Bhatti, in fact every piece evidence suggests he is innocent. Zafar Bhatti however was convicted based on an unsubstantiated report declaring his guilt, made by police in the early stages of their investigation.
In December 2021, British Asian Christian Association, took over responsibility for Zafar Bhatti, after his previous defence council failed to submit a Supreme Court appeal, after failing with a High Court appeal.
We were also required to try to defend Zafar Bhatti for a High Court decision made on 18th October 2021 under the previous solicitors. Judge Chaudhary Abdul Aziz found the decision of the Rawalpindi sessions court not according to the law. Favouring a petition submitted by the complainant he sought an increase of Zafar Bhatti’s sentence from life to a death sentence. The case was sent back to the sessions judge for Rawalpindi for review of the original decision. Read more including a timeline (here)
Session Court Judge Sahibzada Naqeeb Shehzad’s initial acceptance that there were underlying issues with the blasphemy conviction for Zafar Bhatti, led to a glimmer of hope for justice (click here).
On 3rd January however, Judge Shehzad, increased Zafar Bhatti’s sentence to a death penalty.
This left British Asian Christian Association (BACA) with only 10 days from date of conviction to impugn the judgment in the high court. BACA’s team reached Rawalpindi on 8th January 2022 and filed an appeal to be heard at Lahore High Court Bench, Rawalpindi. Our appeal is based on the following grounds.
The impugned judgment is against the law and the facts of the case
The evidence on record is insufficient to justify the judgment
The court has committed material irregularity while passing this judgment
The trial court has misread the evidence
There is no forensic or other hard evidence available on record against which to base a conviction
We should add here that Zafar Bhatti has always denied the allegations of blasphemy in court. It seems that the court has decided on a conviction based on a report by police that was not accompanied with any solid evidence to support their claims. There simply is no physical, electronic or other form of direct evidence that could lead to a conviction.
BACA team met with Zafar’s wife Nawab Bibi (73 yrs) who is suffering with high blood pressure since the recent court decision. News of the death penalty applied to her beloved husband Zafar Bhatti’s sentence has been unbearable. Nawab Bibi, said:
“On my visit to Zafar Bhatti on 6th January I saw him crying profusely.
“It took every ounce of strength in me not to cry also – I was determined not to make visible my fears for him.
“Both of us have faith that God will deliver us from this despair.
“But at that moment the immediate pain of that decision had left us reeling.
“Even then, I made sure I displayed an upbeat appearance and even talked about the life we will share once he is set free.”
“Zafar has asked me not not share the sad news of his death sentence with his mother.
“We are both trusting God for Zafar’s release.”
Nawab Bibi is living alone in a safe house provided to her by British Asian Christian Association. We have offered many times to move her closer to our officers in Lahore, so we can provide her with more care as her health is declining. Nawab Bibi however continually politely declines telling us that she could not bear to far away from Zafar that she could not meet him weekly. She is devoted to him and exhibits the strongest bonds of marital loyalty – it’s a love that cannot be broken by the evil that has befallen this couple. Nawab Bibi is in extremely poor health and is desperate to see Zafar free and back in her arms again.
On Sunday 8th January, Nawab Bibi asked us to write her a prayer request for Zafar Bhatti which she has placed on the wall of the church she attends every Sunday for worship. She wrote:
“Zafar Bhatti and I trust in the Lord to set him free, but we would like everyone who cares for him to pray this simple prayer.
We remember our brother Zafar Bhatti who has been falsely imprisoned in Adiala Jail for a blasphemy he did not commit.
We pray for those who keep him imprisoned to provide their duty of care to Zafar until he is set free.
We pray for the Judicial Courts to uphold justice and to ensure a fair trial for Zafar.
We pray for discernment for all the judges who will be deciding the future of Zafar Bhatti. We pray that they may strengthened in their resolve to judge fairly despite any external pressures or fears.
We pray for the government of Pakistan to review the current blasphemy laws of Pakistan and to alter or remove these draconian laws, that have destroyed so many lives in Pakistan.
Nawab Bibi, added:
“Zafar is a Pastor.
“He is very aware that our Lord broke the chains that shackled Paul his Apostle.
“Zafar has told me that our Lord never forsakes his people.
“Prayer is our most powerful weapon and we call on our brothers and sisters everywhere to pray with us.
“Zafar has said to me that God has always been with him in times of need and He will break his chains as well”
Naseeb Anjum, BACA’s appointed solicitor for Zafar Bhatti, said:
“ We have filed a petition for the suspension of the judgment passed on 3rd January.
“I strongly believe the High Court will consider the points I have raised in this case.
“There is also sufficient medical grounds for Zafar Bhatti to be granted bail.
As soon as the High Court fixes a date for a hearing for the suspension, I shall file a bail petition on medical grounds as well.”
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said:
“We have never waned in our belief that Zafar Bhatti will be released.
“Though the judgement for the increase to a death sentence occurred before we took over Zafar Bhatti’s case we are not phased by it.
“If anything we are compelled to put every effort to release Zafar from the shackles of a false blasphemy charge based on police failures.
“What this whole debacle has brought to the worlds attention is how cruel Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are.
“How easily they are used as a tool for discrimination – in this case by a large extremist group intent to derail the work of an influential pastor.
“While also illustrating the fortitude of Christians in Pakistan who refuse to capitulate to the whim of extremists.”
British Asian Christian Association, is funding Zafar’s defence, we have supported the neglected wife of Zafar Bhatti for several years, who at one point became destitute (click here). We also provide regular food, clothes and sanitary products to Zafar while in prison ensuring his debilitating stay in an isolated cell has some limited comfort. It should be noted that Zafar is required to cook his own food for fear of poisoning and has survived several attempts to take his life. Of course this effort costs a significant amount of money, but we have been to do this through the kind donations of our supporters. If you would like to help us continue this work and the support of many other persecuted Christians than please donate