Pakistan: Judge changes Christian man’s life sentence to death penalty for alleged blasphemous text messages

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

by Karen Faulkner, Worthy News Correspondent

(Worthy News) - A Christian in Pakistan who was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages had his prison term changed to the death penalty last week, Morning Star News (MSN) reports. Rawalpindi Additional Sessions Judge Sahibzada Naqeeb sentenced Christian Zafar Bhatti to death after his new lawyer contested his conviction instead of applying for post-conviction bail.

Bhatti, 56, is understood to be Pakistan's longest-serving prisoner for blasphemy; he has been in jail since his arrest in 2012, MSN reports.

On May 3, 2017, Bhatti was finally sentenced to life in prison, which in Pakistan is 25 years. He was convicted under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws for defaming Muhammad.

Bhatti’s former lawyer, Tahir Bashir, told MSN that he was prepared to appeal against Bhatti’s life sentence before Pakistan’s Supreme Court on September 7, but “then a Christian advocacy group somehow convinced his wife to engage their lawyer to obtain bail from the trial court.”

“I told [Bhatti] that I had already moved an appeal in the Supreme Court against his conviction, but he told me that he had already signed the papers and wanted to take the chance for bail,” Bashir said. “It’s natural for someone who has been in jail for such a long time to get desperate for freedom, so I did not question his decision.”

“However, instead of seeking bail, the lawyer decided to argue against the conviction, resulting in the judge converting the life term into the death sentence, which is now the only punishment for charges under Section 295-C,” Bashir explained.

“I haven’t yet seen the written verdict, but it seems the prosecution managed to prevail over the court and got the sentence converted. Contesting the life term sentence in the Supreme Court would have been relatively easier, but now the case has become more complex.”