By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
ISLAMABAD (Worthy News) - The wife and friends of frail pastor Zafar Bhatti, Pakistan’s longest jailed blasphemy suspect, fear he may soon be executed or die of poor health.
Bhatti,55, has been in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Central Jail in Pakistan’s Punjab province since July 2012, when he was charged with sending blasphemous mobile phone text messages.
A local Islamic leader reportedly told local police he had received messages from an unregistered number insulting Islam’s Prophet Mohammed’s mother.
In May 2017, Bhatti was sentenced to life imprisonment for “blasphemy” against Islam, a charge he denies. The mobile phone in question was not registered to his name, according to Christians following the case.
Bhatti's appeal hearings were repeatedly adjourned, and rather than being acquitted, he was sentenced to death in January 2022. An application to release the Pakistani Christian on bail on medical grounds was recently rejected, Worthy News learned.
In statements obtained by Worthy News, his wife Nawab Bibi and a team from the British Asian Christian Association group said they visited him in Adiala Jail. They brought “groceries, money for insulin and toiletries” but were upset that his medical condition had deteriorated.
His eyesight had weakened significantly, and his left leg had swollen from the foot to the top of the thigh, Christians said. The swelling reportedly began after prison medical staff gave him tablets for diabetes and then for abdominal pain and vomiting.
“The doctors took away the pill packaging from me after the incident,” Bhatti said in a statement shared with Worthy News. “I think they are protecting themselves after a misdiagnosis or incorrect medicinal treatment course decided for me."
Authorities did not comment publicly about the allegations.
Before his detention, the pastor sold medicines to be able to read the Bible and pray with families in homes he visited. He led a church and small non-governmental organization, “Jesus World Mission,” to assist the poor.
However, “Many Muslim people hated how quickly his church was growing. They have taken this [prosecution for blasphemy] action to undermine his work,” his wife explained in published remarks.
She said she is very worried due to “numerous attempts to kill” her husband, adding that he was bullied every day and wasn’t safe from inmates or prison staff.
“When we meet, we cry together and pray seeking God’s intervention,” she recalled, according to remarks sent to Worthy News.
The pastor’s sister Naureen said she fears other inmates or authorities may attack her brother. “My brother has spoken several times of threats received in the cell.”
Bhatti added that while he faces lonely confinement, “knowing” that his wife will be there every week is comforting. “I collect the words and sentences I intend to share with her during the whole week. The time of her visits is so short, and I try to squeeze it all in.”
He was overheard telling his wife this month: “I am happy to see you are fine but missed you a lot, and I'm afraid my health is worsening."
Bhatti thanked friends of the British Asian Christian Association (BACA), a Christian charity, for “the time you spend sharing the Gospel and praying with me” in prison.
BACA said it was concerned about the pastor's plight and his elderly, 72-year-old wife.
"It is disheartening to see this extremely loving couple separated from one another due to failings of the state, stressed BACA Trustee Juliet Chowdhry. Bhatti “is innocent of a crime. Not one shred of forensic evidence exists linking him to the alleged blasphemy he is incarcerated for,” Chowdhry told Worthy News.
“Yet he has almost spent ten years in prison and faces a death sentence. [He] is being denied bail on health grounds despite palpable health concerns.”
Chowdhry noted that the notorious blasphemy laws in this heavily Islamic nation “are evidently being used as a tool for discrimination against a Christian pastor."
Pakistan has come under mounting international pressure to overturn the blasphemy legislation that carries lengthy prison terms or even execution.