A Pakistani Christian pastor who was falsely accused of blasphemy has had his High Court appeal postponed for a seventh time after spending six years behind bars.
How did he get arrested in the first place?
Zafar Bhatti found himself in trouble with police after a local Islamic leader reported that he was receiving blasphemous text messages from an unknown number. Somehow, the authorities deduced that the messages came from Pastor Bhatti.
#Pakistan – Appeal postponed for 7th time for #Christian minority Pastor Zafar Bhatti on #blasphemy charge he denies as false — R.E.A.L.: #ReligiousFreedom is part of Universal #HumanRights – #UDHR #Article18 @nazirbhatti https://t.co/Maep9DGioT pic.twitter.com/7LgaOcHem9— R.E.A.L Human Rights (@realhumanrights) July 2, 2019
With little to no evidence, the police decided to arrest Bhatti. He has been detained ever since. In 2013, it was reported that Bhatti had been tortured by police while in custody, which elicited a confession. According to International Christian Concern, the pastor has continued to insist that this confession was forced out of him.
Sim card registered to woman
During the course of the police investigation, it was discovered that the sim card from which the text messages originated was registered to a woman named Ghazala Khan. Khan was subsequently arrested, but granted bail and then died in 2016. Shockingly, Bhatti remained in prison, even after Khan’s arrest.
In May of 2017, Bhatti was sentenced to life imprisonment. Obviously, given the evidence, the pastor has been keen to appeal his conviction. However. due to the external international pressure exerted in these blasphemy cases, the judges have continued to postpone his hearing.
Why was it postponed yet again?
According to persecution charity Church in Chains, the reason given for the postponement was that that judge overseeing the case was on vacation.
“It is understood that if he had acquitted Zafar, the supplementary documentation requiring his approval could have interfered with his holiday plans,” the charity noted.
At a court hearing in April, the judge said that there was no evidence against Zafar and ordered that he be released. In response, the prosecution, along with the police force, argued that they needed more time to review the evidence in the case. As such, the postponement was granted.
The latest court date has been set for September 12, 2019.