A Christian prisoner Zafar Bhatti is waiting for justice and
CLAAS defending him since 2012
Zafar Bhatti (52 years old at present) a Christian resident of Rawalpindi was falsely implicated in blasphemy case in 2012 and charged under 295C and 298A of Pakistan Penal Code and 25-D Telegraph Act. He was allegedly accused of sending blasphemous text from his phone to Ibrar Ahmed Khan, the complainant and Deputy General Secretary of “Ahal-e-Sunnat Wal Jmaat” a religious organization in Rawalpindi. On July 11, 2012 on the complaint of Ibrar Ahmed a case FIR No. 526/12 was registered at Police Station New Town Rawalpindi against Zafar Bhatti and on July 23, 2012 police arrested Zafar Bhatti. After police interrogation Zafar Bhatti was announced guilty and was sent to Adiala jail Rawalpindi.
CLAAS appointed a Muslim lawyer at Rawalpindi for Zafar’s case and on December 6th 2012 he moved post-arrest bail of Zafar Bhatti in the Court of Additional Session Judge Rawalpindi which was withdrawn on the same day because the District Bar Association Rawalpindi had passed a Resolution that no Counsel/ Advocate of District Bar Association will appear in any case under Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code on behalf of any accused.
The situation was very critical as no lawyer was ready to appear at Rawalpindi in blasphemy cases therefore CLAAS through its legal advisor Mr. Tahir Bashir moved an application for transfer of the case at Lahore for grant of permission to hear the case at principle seat before the Lahore High Court Lahore which was allowed for regular hearings and the transfer petition was duly fixed before the Chief Justice Lahore High Court Lahore for the decision. During court hearing of this case CLAAS lawyer argued that as the bar resolution in Rawalpindi can prejudice the case of the accused Zafar Bhatti and in existence of the resolution there was no chance of fair trial which is constitutional right of the accused. On December 09, 2013 after hearing the arguments of the CLAAS lawyer the honorable Judge while dismissing the petition pleased to observe that the petitioner(Zafar Bhatti) may again approach to this court if he brought any material and soled document which shows that no lawyer is ready to appear in the trial of accused. Later on CLAAS again filed an application for transfer of Zafar Bhatti case from Rawalpindi to Lahore but was withdrawn as the court as Rawalpindi court fixed the case for trial.
Due to high risk his trial is conducted inside Adiala Jail Rawalpindi. After lengthy jail trail of five years on May 3rd 2017 he was awarded life imprisonment in 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, three year imprisonment and ten thousand fine in 298A PPC and one year imprisonment and five thousand fine in 25-D of Telegraph Act . The sentence was awarded by Raja Qamar Sultan Additional & Session Judge, Rawalpindi.
During trial the complainant and his witnesses badly failed to prove the allegation against Zafar Bhatti because there is no direct evidence against Zafar Bhatti and moreover nobody has seen the accused sending blasphemous messages and if there is no incrementing evidence available against accused Zafar Bhatti then why he was convicted life impressment. Therefore we would have to look into the previous instances which were accrued in blasphemy cases in Pakistan. For example in a blasphemy case of Manzoor Masih and Salamat Masih in 1992, a retired Judge of Lahore High Court Mr. Justice Iqbal Bhatti was murdered in his office because he has acquitted the accused.
Another occurrence was taken place at Multan where Mr. Rashid Rehman Advocate murdered while dealing with the case of a blasphemy accused namely Junaid Hafeez. A Judge who acquitted a thirteen years old insane Christian girl namely Rimsha was suffering from a disease down syndrome from the accusation of blasphemy has to be resign from his job and went to aboard.
An example of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer (late) who was assassinated by his own body guard named Mumtaz Qadri because he spoke in favour of Asia Bibi convicted of death penalty under Blasphemy. He called Blasphemy a Black Law which is considered committing Blasphemy.
We have seen another example in the Supreme Court of Pakistan where a Judge namely Mr. Justice Iqbal Hameed Ul Rehman resigned after confirming the death sentence of an accused Mumtaz Qadri who was convicted to death sentence on assassination of a sitting Governor of Punjab Mr. Salman Taseer because Mr. Salman spoke in favour of Asia Bibi she was convicted of death penalty under Blasphemy and he (Mr. Salman) called Blasphemy a Black Law which is considered committing Blasphemy. Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti (late) Minority Minister (he was Christian), who was also killed by Muslim Militants for speaking against Blasphemy Law.
Keeping in view the above cited scenario CLAAS is of the opinion that in Zafar Bhatti case the trial court was forced to give life impressment instead of acquittal of the accused because everyone is affected by the fanatics in Pakistan. It is important to note here that this is first time a Judge convicted an accused under section 295-C PPC to life impressment instead of death sentence which clearly shows that the Judge just to satisfied the extremist passed an order for life impressment.
However, on 6th May 2017 through CLAAS an appeal against the judgment/ conviction of life imprisonment was filed in Lahore High Court – Rawalpindi Bench.
CLAAS handling the case of Zafar Bhatti since 2012 up till now and during this period CLAAS made its best efforts to provide justice to accused Zafar Bhatti from the competent court of law, in this regard we have to travel from Lahore to Rawalpindi for several times on each and every date of hearing and has spent a huge amount in shape of traveling and accommodation.
Up to this date the Court is reluctant to hear his appeal which is being adjourned on every date and more than twenty (20) adjournments had been made by the Honourable High Court Bench at Rawalpindi without any cogent reasons. From the last five months the appeal of Zafer Bhatti was fixed before Honorable Mr. Justice Raja Shahid Mahmood Abbasi, High Court Bench of Rawalpindi. In spite of hearing the arguments from both sides the Honourable Judge did not decide the appeal and just adjourned the case again and again. On September 12th 2019 case was fixed for hearing for finial arguments but not heard and adjourned for October 10th 2019.
On 10th of October 2019 the appeal of Zafar Bhatti was fixed for its final disposal but unfortunately the Honourable Judge refused to decide the appeal while making excuse in open court and said that “my conscious does not allow me to take up this matter and decide the same, the Honourable judge further said that the matter in question is related to his area from where the complainant of this case belongs”. It is worth mentioned that accused Zafer Bhatti is behind the bar since his arrest i.e. 23rd of July 2012 and serving life imprisonment in Adiala jail Rawalpindi. The refusal of Honourable Judge and delay in providing justice can cause irreparable loss to the liberty of condemned prisoner and sheer violation of article 10-A of constitution of Pakistan which granted the fair trial of a person. In spite of refusal of the Judge for hearing of appeal the CLAAS lawyer further requested to the court for its fixation but that was all in vain.
The reason behind the refusal is that after the acquittal of Asia Bibi a countrywide protest was made by the Muslims religious organizations in which numbers of invaders vandalized and ransacked the public property and created panic among the society. CLAAS is of the view that due to the pressure of religious fanatics groups the courts are hesitant to decide the blasphemy cases and always tried to shift their burden by making lame excuses and adjourned the cases without hearing the arguments.
The situation in above said case made the CLAAS very disappointed by conduct of Superiors Judiciary and due to the unwanted behavior of the courts, on October 14th 2019 Mr. Joseph Francis MBE, National Director CLAAS was constrained to write an application to the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan and Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Lahore for fixation and early disposal of Zafar Bhatti’s case. On this application the Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Lahore by allowing the same fixed the case of Zafar Bhatti on 14th of November 2019.
On 14th November 2019 CLAAS lawyer appeared before the court of Mr. Justice Muhammad Tariq Abbasi Judge of High Court at Rawalpindi Bench. Before starting the argument the Judge asked a question to CLAAS lawyer that why this case had not been heard by the previous judge upon which, the lawyer disclosed that as the case is of religious nature and most of judges refused to hear like such cases. The judge said to the CLAAS lawyer that he will hear the case and definitely decide. At the time of hearing case was partially heard. CLAAS lawyer gave some initial points into the knowledge of the Judge and disclosed the gist of the case which was taken into the consideration by the court. The court also heard from complaint side and the hearing was continued about 30 minutes. Finally the judge put three questions before the complaint and the Investigation Officer (IO) of the case who was also present at the time of hearing and seeks the answers of those questions on the next date of hearing.
Zafar Bhatti and his wife Nawab Bibi are facing hardships:
Due to the lengthy court procedures the accused as well as their families are suffering a lot. The same situation is happened in this case as Zafar Bhatti is confined in the jail since last seven years (2012- 2019) and on every date of hearing he hopes that he will be released but his hope ended with new suffering. During jail trial many times Mr. Joseph Francis had meeting with him and gave him hope for his release as he always denied about the allegation against him. Further Zafar Bhatti also shared with Mr. Joseph Francis MBE, National Director CLAAS about his personal experience regarding his connection with God during his confinement. After conviction in 2017 due to security reason the jail authorities did not allow any person out of his blood relation for meeting with Zafar Bhatti. Only his wife named Nawab Bibi (they have no children) meets him on every Thursday and as CLAAS is pursuing his case so that’s why we are in contact with her.
Zafar Bhatti also wrote many letters to Mr. Joseph Francis MBE, National Director CLAAS from the jail in which he quoted bible verses, showed the love of God in troubles and for his hope. One of these letters is below as it is very heart teaching for us:
Great Dear Blessed Brother in the Lord Jesus Christ M.A. Joseph Francis MBE
Waiting: “When I am inpatient, Lord Jesus Christ, help me to be calm. When I get discouraged and feel alone, help me to remember that you are with me. Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength Isaiah 40: 31(I am pray for you and your family)
Hope: “May your unfailing love rest upon us, O lord even as we put our hope in you. May our Lord Jesus Christ who loved us and gave us Eternal comfort and good hope through Grace, comfort your hearts. The Lord bless you and keep you the Lord make his face sine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord life up his countenance upon you and give you peace I hope, wrote Zafar Bhatti in a letter.
Nawab Bibi (60) w/o Zafar Bhatti is an old lady shared with CLAAS that since her husband Zafar Bhatti is confined in Adiala Jail Rawalpindi she is facing hardships of life. She hopes that her husband will release soon but on every date of hearing she loses her hope. Nawab Bibi has no child and after the arrest of Zafar Bhatti she is living alone in a rented house. She is not able to earn for herself due to her old age as she was living in a rented house but she has no income sources therefore unable to manage the house rent Rs. 5000/ PKR and other expenditures for herself. CLAAS supported her financially by providing Rs. 10000/- Pak rupees and is also helping Nawab Bibi by providing grocery on monthly basis. Nawab Bibi with CLAAS support was able to meet her husband in the jail and also paid house rent every month. Many times CLAAS offered her to leave her house from Rawalpindi and shifted in CLAAS shelter home at Lahore as she is an old lady and suffering from different health issues. Being alone it was difficult for her to take care of herself. Nawab bibi did not agreed for shifting to Lahore from Rawalpindi with the reason that her husband is confined in the jail at Rawalpindi and she can easily meet him. “The presence of her husband in the same city gives her calm and mentally satisfaction” said Nawab Bibi. She further told to CLAAS National Director that when her husband will release she will arrange a grand party and would warmly welcome to him.
For the last few months Nawab bibi took shelter in a safe house at Rawalpindi as it was difficult for her to live alone in as her isolation of seven years made her life stressful. Whenever she meets with Mr. Joseph Francis National Director CLAAS, sorrow always reflects from her eyes she is bitterly crying for her husband whenever she called to National Director CLAAS on his phone. She is always praying for her husband’s good health and for his release from the prison. Nawab Bibi is very much thankful to CLAAS for helping her in such difficult times hoping that CLAAS will continue this support to needy and deserving people. However, the situation is not painful only for the victims’ family as well as for CLAAS also as although we are providing legal assistance, financial support and fulfill other needs of the victims and their families who are facing persecution. The all suffering which they are facing is badly effected on their daily lives and they become the victim of mental trauma.
The insecurity and hopelessness does not allow happiness in their lives.
In these circumstances we always are trying to regain their confidence in spite of this fact that Government has less interest to redress the grievance of the victims of religious persecution. We are every time ready to get speedy justice for the victims but failed due to law an order situation in Pakistan and slow judicial system. Injustice, poverty, insecurity, unfaithfulness and discrimination is always and a continue threat for the victims of religious minorities in Pakistan. CLAAS did not lose its hope and still in struggling to get justice for the condemn prisoners.
Reported by CLAAS- Pakistan
Dated: November 20, 2019