PAKISTAN: Pastor visits Zafar Bhatti in prison

Zafar Bhatti (Prison passes)On 2 May a pastor and Church in Chains partner visited Zafar Bhatti in Adyala Prison (image shows jail passes) in Rawalpindi. Zafar (61) has been in prison for the past twelve years on blasphemy charges and is suffering from several serious health conditions. Numerous court hearings of his appeal against his conviction have been adjourned.

A court hearing for Zafar’s appeal against the death sentence, passed in 2022, commenced on 2 May but the hearing did not progress as no judge was willing to hear the case. Consequently the appeal is still pending with no new hearing date set.

Supporters of Zafar commented, “We are troubled by the judges’ apparent reluctance to move forward with the case”. Several court hearings due in 2023 and earlier in 2024 were cancelled (some at short notice without apparent cause) leading Zafar’s lawyer Saiful Malook to say in a video message: “It’s outrageous that an innocent person has been detained in jail for twelve years, while his appeals are being ignored… the issue according to my experience is that no judge wants to hear blasphemy appeals.”

When Saiful Malook (who has appeared in several other high-profile blasphemy cases, securing the acquittal of Asia Bibi in October 2018 and Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel in June 2021) took over Zafar’s case in November 2022 he said,  “We have a very strong case.”

Prison authorities at Adyala Prison have recommended that Zafar consider applying for bail on medical grounds. It is thought this suggestion likely stems from a desire to avoid future international scrutiny should Zafar’s condition worsen within the prison. In March 2022 he was refused bail on medical grounds.

Health and security update

Our partner reported that Zafar’s medical condition remains a serious concern. Zafar’s heart condition prevents him from eating regular prison food, restricting him to vegetables and a limited amount of liquid. Our partner is able to purchase essential items from the prison shop, ensuring that Zafar has access to a suitable diet. Prison doctors have expressed alarm at the significant deterioration in Zafar’s heart function, to only 10%. They say that there are no further treatment options available, leaving his overall health in a very precarious state.

Zafar was recently moved to a new cell, suggesting heightened security measures in response to potential threats.

Nawab’s health struggles

Pastor Waseem with Nawab BibiZafar’s wife Nawab (75) is in poor health and her eyesight  is deteriorating – she is blind in one eye and has cataracts in the other. She is not currently able to visit Zafar in prison. Nawab has been provided with a hearing aid and cataract surgery is being arranged for her.

Our partner reports that at the end of the prison visit Zafar asked for prayer for his and Nawab’s well-being as well as for his own health; for wisdom regarding his bail application; for ongoing provision of his dietary needs; and for other Christians who are  imprisoned on blasphemy charges, including Shagufta Kiran, Asif Pervaiz and Ashfaq Masih.

Read Zafar’s Prisoner Profile

Church in Chains has written to Ms Aisha Farooqui, Ambassador of Pakistan to Ireland, expressing deep concern about the continuing delays in the cases of Zafar Bhatti and Shagufta Kiran, Ashfaq Masih and Asif Pervaiz and appealing to the government of Pakistan to take effective action to ensure that these cases proceed speedily without further delay.

Photo Credits: Church in Chains source