Pakistani sentenced to death for “blasphemy”
Zafar Bhatti, a Pakistani Christian who was convicted of “blasphemy” in May 2017, was sentenced to death by Rawalpindi District Court on 3 January.
Bhatti, who has been fighting to clear his name since his arrest in 2012, appeared in court as part of an ongoing appeal against the life sentence he received when first convicted for allegedly sending texts insulting Muhammad on a phone that was not registered in his name.
The court, however, upheld the 2017 conviction, and further ruled that the proper sentence for “blasphemy” against Muhammad, the Islamic prophet, was death rather than life imprisonment.
The ruling is based on a 1991 constitutional court decision that the death penalty is the only appropriate punishment for “blasphemy” against Muhammad.
Laws outlawing insulting religion have existed in the region since 1860, were incorporated into Pakistan’s Penal Code in 1947 and were strengthened under the military government (1978-88, stating that any person who “defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet” is to be “punished with death or imprisonment for life”.
This, however, was followed by the 1991 court ruling that the only suitable punishment for “blasphemy” against Muhammad was death, a more lenient sentence of life imprisonment being “repugnant to the injunctions of Islam”.
Higher courts are, nevertheless, reluctant to uphold a death sentence, and no executions have ever been carried out.