ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A Pakistani policeman shot to death a jailed Christian pastor accused of blasphemy against Islam, while injuring a British man, activists and officials confirmed.
Pastor Zafar Bhatti was fatally shot Thursday, September 25, in Adiyala prison in Rawalpindi, some 14 kilometres (9 miles) south from Islamabad, the capital, confirmed Xavier Williams, a BosNewsLife special correspondent and representative of advocacy group Life for All.
The other inmate Muhammad Asghar, who has been sentenced to death, was injured but “in stable condition” prison officials said.
“Killing a [pastor] who was falsely accused is mockery of the judicial system. The protectors of the innocent have become the predators,” Williams said on behalf of his group.
Pastor Bhatti was on trial after an Islamic leader accused him in 2012 of sending text messages deemed derogatory to the Prophet Mohammed’s mother.
His family said police investigations showed the phone was registered to someone else.
Supporters linked the accusations against the pastor to anger among Muslim militants over his work to protect the rights of Pakistan’s beleaguered Christian minority in this heavily Islamic nation. He also established the “Jesus World Mission” group whose purpose was to assist the poor, Christians said.
In recent weeks, Bhatti had received death threats in prison from both inmates and guards, his family told Pakistan-based Life for All.
He was being held in the same cell as Asghar.
Fellow inmate Asghar, from the Scottish city of Edinburgh, was detained in 2010 and sentenced to death in January after a disgruntled tenant presented letters he had written saying he was a prophet.
The 70-year-old had previously been detained under the mental health act in Britain and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, according to released documents.
A prison official, requesting anonymity, said the policeman who shot the two men had been “arrested and investigations have been launched.” A member of Asghar’s legal team said their client was shot in the back.
The British High Commission in Islamabad said in a statement: “We can confirm that a British national has been injured in prison in Pakistan. We are providing consular assistance.”
Asghar’s family has urged the British government to intervene to bring him home, saying he had attempted suicide in jail. British prime minister David Cameron earlier said he was “deeply concerned” about the issue.
The cases have underscored concerns over Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy legislation. Blasphemy is punishable by death in Muslim-majority Pakistan.
Several people were killed while awaiting trial or even for criticizing the legislation. Last week, gunmen reportedly shot dead a university professor in Karachi known for his liberal views on Islam who had been labelled a “blasphemer” in a text message campaign.
Adiyala jail also houses Mumtaz Qadri, the former bodyguard of Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer whom he gunned down in 2011 over the politician’s call for the blasphemy laws to be reformed. Pakistan’s only Christian government minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, was also shot dead in a separate incident that year for criticizing the blasphemy legislation.
(With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).