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 of physical and electronic 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. During that investigation Zafar Bhatti states he was coerced into a false investigation under a brutal police interrogation. Read time line (here)
Pakistani law places more weight into a full court testimony in which Zafar Bhatti denied any wrongdoing. His remonstrations that he was forced into a false confession are being ignored by a mix of judges believed to be, either fearful of reprisals, accepting bribes or with extreme Islamic bias.
On 8th January BACA funded Advocate Naseeb Anjum filed a petition for bail for Zafar Bhatti and a hearing was set for 3rd February 2022. Read more (here).
BACA are calling for supporters to write to Pakistan’s president calling for a presidential pardon under article 45 of the Pakistan Constitution. We also implore supporters to sign our petition and pray for Zafar and his wife as his death could be pronounced at any time whether we secure bail or not.
BACA and the couple have been buoyed by a recent letter to Pakistani Authorities from MP Mika Nikko of Finland calling for her freedom and challenging the veracity of the recent verdict. More countries must flow suit say’s Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association. Read more (here)
On 3rd February Nawab Bibi (74 yrs), Zafar Bhatti’s wife, could not make the bail application hearing submitted by BACA. So BACA’s team met with her before the court hearing for a time of prayer. This was the first hearing that Nawab Bibi has missed, and was due to a a bout of flu that became debilitating in her current frail state. Nawab Bibi’s health is declining and she prays fervently for the physical strength to see the day when Zafar is finally released from prison. Grief over the recent verdict of a death sentence for Zafar has left Nawab reeling in a state of anxiety.
Nawab Bibi, said:
“My body is giving up but I am determined to welcome my Zafar home.
“We have been separated for 10 years and Pakistani authorities continue to ignore our pleas.
“They have not broken our marriage or shaken our faith.
“Whatever, the authorities and our false accusers feel they have achieved by this unjust imprisonment – they have failed.
“God provided helpers in our time of need and we have been buoyed by the support of so many people who have shown us love.
“This time apart has brought us closer to God and both of us are ready for whatever God wills for our lives.”
After praying with Nawab Bibi, we travelled to the court full of expectation. However, Judge Raja Mehmood Abassi explained that the court would not accept any appeals to suspend the current sentence or for acquittal. This is because a period of two years is required for an appeal meaning we cannot apply till January 2024.
However our bail petition on health grounds was accepted by the court and the judge ordered that the jail medical board examine Zafar Bhatti. In the same order he demanded that a detailed health report for Zafar Bhatti be available for the next hearing on 16th February 2022.
Zafar Bhatti’s health is also on a decline and he has undergone two heart surgeries, he suffers from high blood pressure, severe diabetes, and cataracts. These ailments have posed serious threats to his health and life in jail has been difficult, with treatment often delayed or ignored.
On 10th February BACA’s team visited Zafar Bhatti in Adiala jail and updated him about the court proceedings. He remains confident that he would be set free and has been praying non-stop since the death sentence was imposed on him. He has asked for people around the world to pray for him and to challenge their politicians and officials to demand his freedom.
Zafar informed us that he has been shifted to another confinement cell for fears of attempted assassinations. We fear for his safety but all we can do for now is to continue to challenge for his freedom via the courts.
Today (16th February 2022) we were disappointed to learn when at court that the prison medical team had not completed their medical report for Zafar. This was because the Court had not put their order in writing and submitted it to prison authorities. Thus has now delayed the process of a decision on our petition and we hope for a new date soon .
Advocate Naseeb Anjum, said:
“There are sufficient medical grounds for Zafar Bhatti to be granted bail.
“We remain confident that the courts will do the right thing and free Zafar.
“Our conversations with the prison medical teams suggest they believe that Zafar’s health warrants freedom.
“We can only wait and see how the judge deliberates.”
British Asian Christian Association reminds our supporters that Like in English Courts, criminal cases in Pakistan are required to be proved beyond reasonable doubt (click here). However, to anyone who understand the facts of the case this aspect of Pakistani law is not being carried out. This case is currently sub judice (under justice) because of the bail application we have submitted for Zafar Bhatti. If we succeed or not with that application a presidential pardon is still able to be sought for Zafar Bhatti under the terms of the Pakistani Constitution, Article 45 (click here). We remind you all that Zafar Bhatti now has a death sentence imposed on him and could be killed at any moment at the whim of the Interior Minister or High Court Judge. Nawab Bibi and Zafar Bhatti are asking their supporters to email the following to call for a presidential pardon and delay in any hanging:
President of Pakistan Imran Khan, email: dg_coord2president.gov.pk or firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com.
You can write to him at: Prime Minister Imran Khan, House No: 2, Street 84, G-6/4, Embassay Road, Islamabad, Pakistan (click here for full details)
Interior Minister of Pakistan, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
BACA will continue to place appeals before the court but will need to wait for two years the current bail application. Despite the pressure from several people in authority that Zafar adopt Islam and escape death he has refused to do so. The threat of death is real and we urge you to write if you can and to pray for Zafar and Nawab.
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said:
“Paul was imprisoned and God freed him from his shackles.
“Pastor Zafar Bhatti has served God with great conviction and commitment, its time for us to pray for God to reward Zafar a faithful servant with freedom.
“When you look at the life of Zafar and Nawab you cant help but feel that only extremely cruel and soulless people could continue to imprison them.
“I guess there is a moral vacuum in Pakistan that allows such injustice to continue – how much does this hurt our loving God?”
“The blasphemy laws of Pakistan are a tool for discrimination and persecution.
“Too often it is Christians who feel the brunt of their pernicious force.
“Even then Christians serving sentences choose to endure long sentences and attempted murders rather than quit their faith.
“Its ridiculous that the Government continues to espouse laws that cause so much hurt and pain.
“More so, that Pak-authorities offer freedom for adoption of Islam, when these derisible attempts at forced conversion are invariably declined.”