“Rawalpindi, Christian leader accused of blasphemy murdered in prison,” by Jibran Khan, Asia News, September 25, 2014 (thanks to C. Cantoni):
Rawalpindi (AsiaNews) – There has been yet another case of an extra-judicial murder in Pakistan, this time involving a Christian leader who was falsely imprisoned years ago on blasphemy charges. The 45 year old Reverend Zafar Bhatti’s lifeless body was found this morning in his cell in the Adyala prison Rawalpindi. The past and president of the Jesus World Mission had been under investigation since July 2012, for having allegedly violated the “black law”, although there was no evidence to prove his guilt.
Catholic sources in Rawalpindi, speaking on condition of anonymity to AsiaNews of this “terrible story” say legal action “will be publically taken as soon as the autopsy results are in”. The sources add that they are also demanding greater protection for those who are on trial for blasphemy. Associations and human rights activists are calling for a thorough investigation to shed light on yet another act of “barbarism” in Pakistan.
The Rev. Bhatti was a native of Karachi, but in 2010 moved to Lahore’s Nawaz Sharif colony where he lived for two years. He worked extensively in defense of the rights of Christians and religious minorities. On 10 July 2012, he moved with his family, to the capital Islamabad. The next day, surprisingly, a complaint against him was lodged with the police in New Town, Rawalpindi, by Ahmed Khan, vice-secretary of the Islamic movement Jamat Ehl-e-Sunnat.
According to the police report, Khan received text messages containing offensive language towards Muhammad’s mother from a visible number, but not among his contacts. He went to the police, threatening to rouse the extremist wing if they did not open an investigation for alleged blasphemy under section 295-C of the Penal Code.
There are many unclear aspects to the case including the charges against the Christian pastor. By law, anyone who violates Articles 295 B and C of the Code of Criminal Procedure also risks the death penalty. However, the offense against the prophet’s mother is governed by section 295 A and provides for milder punishment. On July 16, officials arrested Bhatti and his sister-in-law Nasreen Bibi, and during the pre-trial detention, subjected him to torture and abuse to extort a confession, which he never made because he always indignantly rejected the accusations declaring himself innocent.
During the investigation it was found that the phone number belonged to Ghazala Khan, cousin of Christian leader and collaborator within his association, who also ended up on trial for blasphemy. In December 2012, the woman was released on bail, with the obligation presenting herself at court during the hearings; in recent months, activists and organizations have launched appeals for the trail to take place in prison, for fear of attacks against the defendants who were under constant threat.
However, attempts to pressure authorities were not enough and last night Rev. Bhatti was killed, reportedly shot to death by the prison officers responsible for his security. In recent weeks he had told his family several times that he feared for his life not only from the other prisoners, but the same prison officers.
With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia.
About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).
Scores of violent incidents have occurred in recent years, against entire communities (Gojra in 2009, and Joseph Colony, Lahore, in March 2013), places of worship (Peshawar, September last year) and individuals (Sawan Masih, Asia Bibi, Rimsha Masih and Robert Fanish Masih, who died in prison), often perpetrated under the pretext of the country’s blasphemy laws.