New Delhi: Pastor Zafar Bhatti is Pakistan’s longest serving blasphemy convict who has been rotting in jail since 2012. Now, a sessions court judge in Rawalpindi district has sentenced him to death under section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code.
Bhatti has been accused of sending blasphemous text messages, abusing Prophet Mohammad’s mother. He was tortured into confessing the same, says US Commission for International Religious Freedom. Reports suggest his lawyers argued in court that the Pastor was framed as the blasphemous texts were sent by a number that doesn’t belong to Bhatti.
There have been many instances of violence against Bhatti in incarceration. He’s lodged in Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi. False reports were circulated in 2014, alleging that Bhatti had been shot to death in jail. Pakistan is infamous for lynchings and killings of people accused of blasphemy.
In September 2020, Asif Pervaiz, another Christian, was sentenced to death by a Lahore court in 2020 for sending blasphemous texts. The sentencing is yet to be carried out.
The most infamous case relating to blasphemy has been of Christian woman Asia Bibi, who was convicted of verbally accusing Prophet Mohammed. Though she was acquitted in 2019, Bibi fled the country.
The blasphemy laws
Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws date back to the British era. According to a BBC report, the offences related to religion were first codified in 1860 and later expanded in 1927.
In 1980 and 1986, a number of provisions were added to the law by the military government of General Zia-ul-Haq.
In 1980, making derogatory remarks against Islamic personages was criminalised with three years jail time. In 1982 a new provision was added, making insult of the Quran an offence inviting life imprisonment. In 1986 a separate clause was added that made insult of Prophet Muhammad punishable by death or a life sentence.
According to a report by Human Rights Without Frontiers, 1,865 people were charged in Pakistan for Blasphemy between 1987 and 2021. There was a spike in 2020, when over 200 cases were registered under the controversial law. Since 1990, 70 people have been murdered or lynched over accusations of blasphemy.