Relaymedia

Christian Pastor Who Defended Rights of Believers Shot By Pakistani Police

( [email protected] ) Sep 25, 2014 02:52 PM EDT

Pakistani Christians
The number of Christians charged with blasphemy--a crime punishable by death, is on the rise in Pakistan. (AFP)

A Christian pastor who worked to protect the human rights of Pakistani believers was killed by Pakistani policeman after being accused of blasphemy

Reuters reports that pastor Zafar Bhatti was shot and killed in jail on Thursday while imprisoned in Rawalpindi, next to the capital, Islamabad. Bhatti, who worked to protect the human rights of the country's Christian minority, was on trial after an Islamic leader accused him in 2012 of sending text messages derogatory to the Prophet Mohammed's mother--a crime punishable by death. However, his family member say police investigations show the phone was registered to someone else.

During his time in prison, Bhatti received death threats from both inmates and guards, his family told Pakistan-based human rights group Life for All.

"This is a barbaric act. There had been threats. The court should have instructed police to ensure Bhatti's safety," said Xavier Williams of Life for All.

"Killing of a person who was falsely accused is mockery of the judicial system. The protectors of the innocent have become the predators."

Mohammad Asghar, a British national of Pakistani origin who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, shared a cell with Bhatti and was also injured in the shooting.The 70 year old was arrested in 2010 and sentenced to death in January after a tenant presented letters he had written saying he was a prophet.

"These crimes are just a small sample of the horrific deeds committed by Muslim extremists," asserted one lawyer who asked to remain anonymous.

"There is no reason for this kind of terror. These people are like vicious animals."

According to an Islamabad-based think-tank, the Center for Research and Security Studies, this year has seen a number of blasphemy sentences, an accusation analysts say are used to settle scores or gain property. 48 people accused of blasphemy have been extrajudicially killed, including seven in prison or outside court, according to Life for All.

Blasphemy charges are difficult to fight, as Pakistani law is unclear on what defines blasphemy.

Those accused of blasphemy are often lynched and lawyers defending those accused of blasphemy cases have frequently been attacked, Reuters reports. Judges have also been attacked for dismissing cases and many of the accused face years in jail.

Two prominent politicians who suggested reforming the law have been killed, one by his own bodyguard, while another politician who discussed reforming the law on television is now facing blasphemy charges.

"Unfortunately, these kinds of cases are only on the rise, particularly against Christians, and are not likely to disappear anytime soon," said the lawyer.

"These aren't political battles. These are religious wars."