International Christian Concern
Imprisoned Christian Accused of Blasphemy in Pakistan Shot Dead by Police
Another Inmate Accused of Blasphemy Wounded During the Attack
International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Christian pastor Zafar Bhatti was shot and killed by a policeman in Adiyala jail located in Rawalpindi, next to Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. In July 2012, Bhatti was accused of blasphemy and has since been imprisoned at Adiyala jail awaiting trial. Bhatti's cellmate, Muhammad Asghar, who has a history of mental illness and is also accused of blasphemy, was wounded in the attack.
According to reports from human rights group Life for All, Bhatti had been receiving death threats in prison both from other inmates and from guards before being murdered. "This is a barbaric act," Xavier Williams of Life for All told The Express Tribune. "There had been threats. The court should have instructed police to ensure Bhatti's safety."
"[The] killing of a person who is falsely accused is mockery of the judicial system," Williams told Dawn. "The protectors of the innocent have become the predators."
Bhatti was accused of blasphemy on July 11, 2012 when First Information Report (FIR) #526 was registered against him in the New Town police station. The FIR alleged that Bhatti sent blasphemous text messages to Ahmed Khan, then deputy secretary of Jamaat Ahle Sunnat, a Pakistani Muslim organization.
On July 16, Bhatti was arrested by police and then brutally tortured for several days as police attempted to extract a confession from him. When Bhatti did not confess to the allegations leveled against him, the police presented him to the court to be formally charged.
In court, Bhatti's family was able to meet Bhatti and found him in a "fragile condition." Family members asked police why Bhatti had been beaten so badly, to which the police responded, "The family should thank God that he was still alive, otherwise, they would have killed him for what he had done." Bhatti was remanded to Adiyala jail on December 18 after the court refused to accept his bail plea.
At least 48 people accused of blasphemy have been extra-judicially killed in Pakistan, including seven in prison or outside of the courts, according to Life for All. Christians and other religious minorities are disproportionately accused and convicted under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws. In 2013, thirty-six individuals were accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. Of that thirty-six, thirty were religious minorities and twelve of those were Christians. Christians make up only two percent of Pakistan's population; the fact that one-third of blasphemy accusations made in 2013 were leveled against Christians is highly disturbing.
ICC's Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark, said, "This most recent incident involving Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law should once again bring the abuse of this law back into international discussions. Originally written to protect against religious intolerance, the law has warped into a tool used by extremists and others to settle personal scores and persecute Pakistan's vulnerable religious minorities. Beyond being disproportionately accused and convicted of blasphemy, the vast majority of blasphemy accusations brought against Christians are false, like the accusations leveled in this particular incident. Unfortunately, pressure for Islamic radical groups and general discrimination against Christians in Pakistan has transformed trial courts into little more than rubber stamps for blasphemy accusations brought against Christians, regardless of the evidence brought to bear in the case. Also, little is done to ensure the safety of those merely accused of blasphemy, leading to the deaths of at least 48 people, many of whom could have been proven innocent."
For interviews, contact William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia: RM-SAsia@persecution.org
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