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World News

Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan

by Heather Preston

A Christian man has been sentenced to death by hanging by a judge in Pakistan.

Zafar Bhatti, who was already serving a life sentence for blasphemy charges, has had his penalty increased to death by hanging.

Bhatti was incarcerated in 2012 for allegedly sending a defamatory text about the mother of the Muslim prophet Mohammed - a charge which he has always denied.

On 3rd January a district court judge increased his sentence to the death penalty.

According to reports from persecution charity Release International, evidence surrounding Bhatti's charges are questionable. 

Reports say he was gathering evidence about Christian persecution when he was accused of sending the alleged text. 

He has always maintained that the phone containing the messages was not registered in his name. The SIM card in question is reportedly registered to a woman, who was later arrested and charged with blasphemy before being released on bail. 

Bhatti's wife Nawab Bibi believes he has been framed.

"Bhatti is innocent. He was framed. Pray for his release," she told the British Asian Christian Association.

In 2019 a judge ruled that there was no evidence of his alleged crimes and that he should be released while the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom claims the police tortured Bhatti into making a confession. There have been numerous reports of mistreatment and abuse during Bhatti's imprisonment by both guards and prisoners.

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan have long been a problem, such as in the case of Asia Bibi, who was nearly put to death after being accused of insulting Islam. 

Release International is calling for Bhatti's release and a review of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws. 

"Given that Christians make up just two per cent of the population, the numbers charged are disproportionately high," says CEO Paul Robinson. "Christians are ten times more likely to be accused of religious offences in Pakistan."

He added: "The blasphemy laws have been used to make false allegations against Christians, often to settle scores and destroy their lives. Just to accuse someone of blasphemy can light a fuse that leads to murder. The blasphemy laws are weapons of religious discrimination. They must be repealed."


 

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