A Pakistani Pastor, Zafar Bhatti, 58, has been sentenced to death by the district court in Rawalpindi, Pakistan for blasphemy.
Bhatti, who was accused of sending blasphemous SMS text messages according to a report by Anglican Ink, has been in prison since 2012.
On May 3, 2017, he was sentenced to life imprisonment under Articles 295 (a) and 295 (c) of the Penal Code of Pakistan for dishonoring Prophet Muhammad and his mother.
Pastor Zafar before his arrest in 2012, ran a house church and also founded the charity organization Jesus World Mission which was established to assist the poor.
He was arrested for blasphemy following a complaint that was filed against him by an anonymous person.
After investigating the mobile phone number, it was revealed that the number used to send the text messages was not registered in his name. The service provider stated further that the sim card was registered with a Muslim named in the person of Ghazala Khan.
Ghazala was tried in April 2013 and granted bail.
Zafar Bhatti, however, denied the charges against him from the onset.
He is currently the longest-serving prisoner for blasphemy and the first to receive a death sentence, upheld by the court on January 3.
Ilyas Samuel, a Christian human rights activist, showing Fides his dismay at the unjustified death sentence of Zafar Bhatti, said:
“It is sad to hear this news.
“I am sorry that the misuse of blasphemy laws has become so common that it is exercised as a tool of revenge against innocent people”.
Along with Zafar Bhatti’s case, there is another that shows a glimmer of justice: on January 5, Nadeem Samson, a Christian victim of the blasphemy law since November 2017, was released on bail after four years of arrest, in a sentence of the Supreme Court.
Nadeem Samson was arrested on charges of creating a fake Facebook account, in which he allegedly posted blasphemous content.
Joseph Jansen, President of Voice for Justice, told Fides: “We are happy to have obtained bail for Nadeem Samson. In fact, the dispute with the complainant concerned money and property issues.
“Most blasphemy cases are based on false accusations, stemming from family feuds or religious prejudice. Those who falsely accuse others of blasphemy must be brought to justice and duly punished”, he said.
Muslim lawyer Saif-ul-Malook, Nadeem Samson’s lawyer and former defender of Asia Bibi, told Fides: “It is a historic decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
“This ruling will serve as a precedent to help other victims of blasphemy allegations. Pakistani courts regularly reject bail appeals for victims of the blasphemy law, particularly when the allegations relate to Article 295 (c).
“We give credit to Judge Syed Mansoor Ali Shah of the Supreme Court of Pakistan for not letting religious prejudices prevent him from exercising justice”, he added.