On June 22, a court in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, upheld the life sentence of a 56-year-old Christian man convicted of sending blasphemous text messages despite a lack of evidence, his lawyer said.
A life sentence in Pakistan is 25 years.
According to Morning Star News, Zafar Bhatti had been handed a life sentence on May 3, 2017, under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which relates to insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad and is punishable by either death or a life sentence. Bhatti has continually denied the charge, and the latest evidence presented by the prosecution on June 22 failed to directly link him with the alleged offense.
“In a bid to convert his life term into a death sentence, the complainant in the case, Ibrar Ahmed Khan, last year filed an application in the Lahore High Court (LHC) Rawalpindi Bench seeking forensic examination of cellular company audio samples to try to establish Bhatti’s direct involvement in the texts,” Morning Star News reported.
However, due to the absence of a testing facility at the time, police could not forensically examine the audio samples they obtained from three people, including the SIM card’s registered owner, Ghazala Khan, who used to work with Bhatti.
“When someone calls the cellular company for activation of the SIM card, their voices are recorded,” Bhatti’s attorney Tahir Bashir said. “In this case, the SIM used in the alleged offense was activated thrice—the first two times by some people related to Ms. Khan, and the third time by the woman herself. Bhatti never possessed the SIM, but his phone set was mysteriously used to send those blasphemous text messages. It’s quite clear that the convict was trapped in the case through his phone.”
Khan was also arrested and charged with blasphemy in 2012 but at her trial in 2013, the judge showed leniency and granted her bail.
According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2021 Annual Report, which was released in April, the USCIRF re-designated Pakistan among nine other “Countries of Particular Concern” for severe violations of religious freedom.
Pakistan also ranks fifth on religious persecution watchdog Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it’s most difficult to be a Christian.