Bhatti, a Christian pastor accused of blasphemy was shot dead by police in a Pakistani jail in Rawalpindi. A persecution watchdog group has said this is the latest incident of blasphemy laws being used as a tool in human rights violations. It appears that the court failed to instruct police to ensure Bhatti’s safety.
Bhatti had been imprisoned at the Adiyala prison since 2012 as it has been reported in the news. His 70-year-old cellmate, Muhammad Asghar, has a history of mental illness, was also wounded by gunfire in what seemed to be an “unprovoked attack” by police on the pastor. It appears that Asghar was also accused of blasphemy in the predominately-Muslim country.
Most religious freedoms have been suspended by the government in what appears to be a “crackdown” on the Christian community. Many Christians and especially church leaders have been getting death threats. The police and the court seemed to be the main instigators of the threats.
We can see from this latest incident that Pakistan’s current blasphemy law will only foster increased Muslim persecution of Christians and other religious minorities and draw scrutiny that is more condemnation from the international community.
Initially written to promote religious tolerance, the law has been used and misrepresented to become a weapon used by Muslim fanatics to settle private issues and persecute Pakistan’s susceptible religious minority sectors. It appears that Pakistan’s minority Christian population is the main target even though most of the charges are untrue. Just the accusation can result in years in prison before trial.
Islamic radical groups seemed to be driving the widespread discrimination against Christians in Pakistan and have tied the trial courts up with cases, as the judges seemed to rule against the accused regardless of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
“Also, little is done to ensure the safety of those merely accused of blasphemy, leading to the deaths of at least 48 people have died in prison awaiting trial with little to nothing being done to protect the accused.
In Pastor Bhatti’s case, he was accused of sending blasphemous text messages to the deputy of a radical Muslim organization called Jamaat Ahle Sunnat. Consequently, he was arrested on July 16, and was tortured by police for days after refusing to make a “confession”.
In April, a Christian couple were sentenced to death for committing blasphemy via text messages. The couple’s lawyer has appealed the conviction and sentence since the couple can neither read or write. This fact was ignored by the court even though the fact is widely known. He argued unsuccessfully that since they were illiterate, the could not have sent or received a text message. Christians have been forced to keep a low profile to avoid being noticed by extremist who seek to make Pakistan a caliphate.