Zafar Bhatti Story
Zafar Bhatti Story
Zafar is a 56-year-old Pakistani pastor who has been in Rawalpindi’s Central Jail since July 2012, when he was falsely charged with sending blasphemous text messages. On May 3, 2017, Zafar was sentenced to life imprisonment for blasphemy, a charge he denies. The mobile phone in question was not even registered to his name. Zafar has appealed, but his appeal hearings have been adjourned repeatedly.
Before his arrest, Zafar worked selling medicines and often went door-to-door with his presentation, also reading the Bible and praying with families in homes he visited. He founded and led a small NGO called “Jesus World Mission” to assist the poor.
After his arrest, he was tortured to extract a confession, but he insisted on his innocence. In prison, Zafar has experienced pressure from Muslim prisoners to convert to Islam, and he has been beaten several times. On March 31, 2013, his food was poisoned, causing bleeding from his nose and mouth. He was in critical condition for several days.
On September 25, 2014, rumours circulated that Zafar had been killed in his prison cell. A police officer deployed to protect the prisoner in the next cell, instead shot him in the chest and had also planned to kill all prison inmates accused of blasphemy. Zafar narrowly escaped death at the hand of this police officer another prisoner named Asghar (a British national) facing the same charges died. https://tribune.com.pk/story/767045/british-man-jailed-for-blasphemy-wounded-in-adiala-jail
In fact, on April 24, 2017, when Zafar’s trial opened, it had to be held in prison because of the threats to his life. Judgement was reserved until a later date. In fact, appeal hearings have been postponed numerous times for many reasons. On the seventh time, it was stated that the presiding judge was due to go on holiday and it was understood that if he had acquitted Zafar, the supplementary documentation requiring his approval could have interfered with his holiday plans! The sad truth is that there have been further dates set for his hearings: all of which have continued to be postponed. On November 2, 2020, Zafar’s appeal for bail on health grounds was dismissed and November 23 was set for the final hearing of his case. However, the judge did not hear Zafar’s case and no new date was set.
He was recently visited by a team from Canadian Aid to Persecuted Christians Inc. He talked about his health (diabetic, hypertension and neurological) and issues of mistreatment by the current jail superintendent and staff, such as taking away all his things like books, writing material and even the plastic glass he used for drinking water. Despite having escaped being shot, given poisoned food within his cell, two heart attacks and a stroke, yet he is strong in his faith. They prayed together, discussed his case, and gave him an Easter hamper. He requested a few books, a glucometer, and a digital blood pressure machine.
The team also visited Nawab Bibi, Zafar Bhatti’s wife, and presented her with an Easter ration. She lives alone and works as a cleaner in different homes to earn money to buy medicine. At one-point Nawab was working as a cleaner in three homes owned by a man who treated her “like an animal” until she developed double pneumonia early in 2019 and had to be hospitalised. She is under great stress due to the numerous attempts to kill her husband. She brings him food & stuff of his personal use every week; however, she has been unable to visit for several months due to COVID-19 restrictions.
When a husband and father is imprisoned, it causes significant pressure for the family. Reports indicate that Zafar’s wife, Nawab, has struggled to make ends meet since her husband’s arrest. Her health is also not good, and the case is such that none of the siblings from either family ever visits. On April 18, 2021, Nawab fell on the stairs and injured herself, creating extra hardship.
As with other accused blasphemy cases in Pakistan, Zafar may remain in prison for a considerable length of time. The courts are often reluctant to tackle the underlying injustice and abuse of the blasphemy laws for fear of reprisal by Muslim extremists.
Please pray for God’s continuing protection and health, and for peace and courage in his situation. Also pray that God will change and touch the hearts of his accusers and officials involved in his case. Pray for his wife to experience the presence and help of God during this most trying and challenging time.
A CAPC representative continues to pay visits to Nawab Bibi, taking her medicines and food. CAPC is also considering facilitating Legal Aid, attempting to hopefully bring about Zafar’s release from prison. As his case is of an extremely sensitive nature, no lawyer can easily advocate for Zafar. Such cases also need to be dealt with in strict confidence.
The Pakistan Blasphemy Laws, penal code 295-A, B and C, are the notorious laws through which several hundreds of Christians have been arrested. Often these laws are misused as a tool to persecute Christians, settle personal scores and attack and vandalize Christian properties. In fact, the victims are often killed by the individuals or by the mob in the belief that by so doing they will win heaven. In the following case, a Pakistani – USA citizen was shot to death in the Peshawar court during trials. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-53582578
In 1996, Rehmat Masih and Salamat Nasih were also shot to death in a Gujranwala Jail. https://www.dawn.com/news/589587/high-profile-blasphemy-cases-in-the-last-63-years
Rimsha was a girl accused of tearing pages of the Holy Quran. The case was totally fabricated for the purpose of ridding a Muslim neighborhood of a Christian family. The case was brought by the Islamic Religious leader; but fortunately, Rishma was later declared innocent. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/01/pakistan-girl-accused-blasphemy-canada
Even though the accused may be declared innocent, they cannot continue to live in the society, for fear of reprisal by extremists who take things into their own hands. Asia Bibi is an example of someone who was released and had to be kept in protective custody until being moved to Canada in 2019.
Disturbingly, in a high percentage of these cases, the perpetrator is never brought to justice and is easily released from prison and/or from any charges against him.
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