Christian man sentenced to death in Pakistan on blasphemy charges

(Photo: Unsplash/Sameer Akhtari)

A Christian man has been sentenced to death in Pakistan a decade after he was charged with blasphemy.

Zafar Bhatti, 58, was accused of sending blasphemous text messages from his phone. 

He has always denied the accusations but was charged with blasphemy in 2012, and in 2017 he was sentenced to life in prison.

An appeal was lodged by the Christian NGO, the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS-PK), which has been supporting Bhatti throughout his ordeal.

Last October, the case was referred back to a trial court by Mr Justice Abdul Aziz who said Bhatti should have been given the death sentence instead of life imprisonment. 

Bhatti has now been sentenced to death by the Pakistan session court of Rawalpindi and is being held under high security due to threats to his life from extremists.

CLAAS-PK has called for Bhatti, a diabetic, to be granted bail and released from prison on medical grounds after he suffered a heart attack in prison last October, but the request was refused. 

The charity says his health is continuing to decline behind bars. 

Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-PK, said Bhatti is a victim of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

"Since the promulgation of the blasphemy law in Pakistan, the law is oppressive and frequently misused," he said.

"Provisions have been used as tools of revenge in personal conflicts, to target religious minorities and to oppress political opponents or critical voices, putting in jeopardy the lives of the accused and also their families, members of their communities, judges, lawyers and everyone that tries to seek justice.

"The situation continues to deteriorate, and minorities are living under constant threat as the government has failed to protect religious minorities in the last years, exacerbating existing religious divides and thus creating a climate of religious intolerance, violence and discrimination against vulnerable minority groups in the country, including Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians.

"In the recent year several blasphemy cases have been registered against Hindu, Christians and even against Muslims, on mere suspicion."