Christian Blasphemy Suspect Misreported as Slain in Pakistani Jail Is Alive and Well

Police prison guard’s attack raises questions about security.

Zafar Bhatti, Christian accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. (File photo)

Zafar Bhatti, Christian accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. (File photo)

LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Contrary to published reports, a Christian on trial for alleged “blasphemy” in Rawalpindi, Pakistan is alive and well following a Sept. 25 gun attack by a guard ranting against defamers of the prophet of Islam, sources said.

Prison officials and the wife of the accused Christian, Zafar Bhatti, told Morning Star News that at Adiala Jail guard Muhammad Yousaf wanted to kill all inmates accused of blasphemy against Islam, but that other guards took him down after he shot a British-Pakistani Muslim in the chest who was convicted of blasphemy. The victim was recuperating at a private hospital.

Bhatti had been misreported as killed in mainstream and niche media.

“My husband was in the cell adjacent to the one where the incident took place,” Bhatti’s wife, Nawab Bibi, told Morning Star News by phone from Islamabad. “Fortunately, the other prison guards were able to tackle the shooter soon after he fired the first shot at the Muslim blasphemy accused. He told us that the shooter kept screaming that he would kill all those who have been disrespectful to the prophet Muhammad.”

Four others accused of blasphemy, including Bhatti, were inside the barracks that the guard attacked, Bibi said.

She said that her husband had repeatedly expressed fears that Islamist extremists would kill him one day.

“All hell broke loose on me when I was informed that there had been a shooting incident at Adiala Jail and my husband had been murdered,” she said. “Our lawyer contacted the prison authorities, but they failed to give him a satisfactory reply and also refused to bring my husband on the phone so that we could be assured of his safety.”

A local Christian organization subsequently managed to arrange a visit with her husband, and she said she was relieved to see him well.

Bibi said she did not know why her husband was accused under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which have been widely condemned.

“My husband was charged with blasphemy in July 2012 by Gujrat Police,” she said. “He and a woman, Ghazala Khan, are accused of sending blasphemous text messages and were charged under Section 295-C [defaming Muhammad, which carries the death penalty].”

Ghazala has been freed on bail, while Bhatti was yet to receive any judicial relief in the case.

The trial is being conducted in the prison, formally known as Central Jail Rawalpindi, by Additional District and Session Judge Mohammad Yar Gondal after Bhatti expressed security fears about his safety.

Security Questions

Prison policeman Yousaf managed to smuggle a .30-caliber handgun inside the prison. He allegedly came to the cell block where those accused of blasphemy were held and convinced the guard at the door to let him in with false statements, prison sources said.

He spent some time with another prisoner in the same cell block, suddenly pulled the handgun from his shoe and shot at 71-year-old Muhammad Asghar, a British-Pakistani blasphemy convict with a history of mental illness. The bullet broke two of Asghar’s ribs and punctured his right lung.

Prison guards quickly knocked him down before he could open fire on other inmates or security personnel. Police seized the pistol, two magazines with 17 bullets and a dagger from the assailant, sources said.

Police officials on guard duty inside prisons are usually prohibited from carrying any weapons, and officers said they are investigating how the attacker brought the weapons into the prison.

Adiala Jail Deputy Superintendent Chaudhry Arshad corroborated Bhatti’s wife’s statement that the shooter intended to kill all the blasphemy suspects in the prison.

“Yousaf was only able to pass through security checks because he was a prison guard,” Arshad said. “Security guards don’t pass through the metal detectors installed at the gates because their uniform contains pips and metal belt buckles, so they are just hand-frisked for weapons. He was hiding the weapon in his shoe, and it was the other guards’ negligence that they didn’t ask him to take his shoes off during the body search.”

Arshad said that security had been increased at the cells holding the blasphemy suspects, and that a 15-member team had been permanently deployed at the barracks to work in shifts.

“We scrutinize all police personnel deployed at the prison but cannot read what’s going on in a person’s mind,” he said. “Now we have again sent the particulars of the security team to the Police Special Branch for investigating their religious inclinations and past record. Such incidents will not take place again in our prison, as we will be more vigilant now.”

He said that an internal enquiry had been launched to establish how Yousaf – who was not deployed at the barracks for blasphemy suspects – managed to get access to the special cells.

Eight prison officials, including four officers, have been suspended following the incident, sources said.

Police investigators who interrogated Yousaf said that the shooter had told friends he had dreams in which he received “divine guidance” and would often say that he was willing to put his life on the line for the sake of his Muslim beliefs.

Like Mumtaz Qadri, the police commando who shot and killed former Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer for questioning the blasphemy laws, Yousaf belongs to the Barelvi movement, within the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence.

One of Yousaf’s colleagues from Adiala Jail said that the assailant was convinced that a divine entity would appear in his dreams. He said that Yousaf, 25, had wanted to lead prayers at the prison mosque and did so for some time.

“Yousaf was also inspired by [Mumtaz] Qadri, who had also been detained at Adiala Jail for some time,” the policeman said.

According to officials, Yousaf spent some time in the barracks where Qadri was being held.

“I don’t remember the exact dates, but it was in the winter, maybe January or February,” one said. “Duties are rotated on a monthly basis.”

Regarding Yousaf’s motives, the policeman said, “Yousaf believed that the blasphemy accused could possibly be freed by the courts, and he believed that the accused should be punished.”

Yousaf joined the force in 2009 in Lahore. He was transferred to the Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore and also worked in Gujranwala, where he received Elite Force training for six months. He came to Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi on April 28, 2013 and was last deployed at the prison’s Gate No. 5.

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