LAHORE, Pakistan (Christian Daily International–Morning Star News) – In a rare move in Pakistan, police discharged a 72-year-old Christian from a blasphemy case after the complainant admitted she had falsely accused him, sources said.
Younis Bhatti, known as Bhagat, had been arrested and charged with desecrating the Quran under Section 295-B of Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes, which carries a mandatory life sentence, in village 211-RB, Jaranwala Tehsil, Faisalabad District, Punjab Province, on Saturday (Feb. 10).
Sosan Fatima, a member of the Brethren house church founded by the Bhatti family, had accused him of forcing his way into her house when she was reading the Quran, assaulting her and tearing the Islamic scripture. In her complaint, Fatima also stated that Bhatti opposed the family’s alleged conversion to Islam.
Bhatti had provided Fatima free housing on his land, and she had objected to his plans to divide her home with another needy Christian family. He said that after police heard his statement, officers brought Fatima and her husband to the station the next night and questioned them in his presence. He added that police also made efforts to record the statements of other area Christians.
“After some time, Fatima broke down and confessed that she had falsely accused me,” Bhatti told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “She said that her husband and two other Christians had hatched this plan 10 days ago to stop me from dividing the property.”
Bhatti said police told him that they would remove his name from the First Information Report (FIR) but could not immediately release him due to the threat to his life. After the blasphemy allegations surfaced, announcements on mosque loudspeakers had incited more than 500 Muslims to protest, causing many area Christians to flee their homes.
“I can’t thank God enough for rescuing me from this dangerous accusation,” Bhatti said. “Those who sought to implicate me in the fake case were instead booked under the same charges. This is how God works when you put your faith in Him fully.”
He also expressed his gratitude for the aid he received from a Christian rights organization.
Fatima had told Khurrianwala Police that she and her husband, Samuel Masih, alias Amanat Ali, converted to Islam more than a year ago. Younis Bhatti said that his faith in Christ gave him the courage to face the false allegation boldly.
“Fatima’s accusation was completely baseless. While it’s true that I had gone to her quarters on that day to discuss the matter of dividing the property, I did not step inside the premises,” Bhatti told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “Her husband was not at home at that time, and neighbors advised me to refrain from arguing with the woman in her husband’s absence.”
Taking the advice, he went to a nearby village to meet a friend.
“I came to know about the issue a couple of hours later when someone informed me on the phone that Fatima had raised a clamor after I left, accusing me of desecrating the Quran,” Bhatti said.
He said the caller also told him that all Christian residents in the area had fled their homes after the announcements were made from mosque loudspeakers telling Muslims to gather and protest against the alleged blasphemy.
“I have always trusted the Lord with all my heart, and I knew He will not forsake me,” Bhatti said. “This faith encouraged me to return to my village instead of fleeing from the situation. When I reached there, I saw that around 500-600 Muslims were shouting slogans against me.”
He hid from the mob, fearing they would not hesitate to attack him, he said.
“I hid in a place where I could observe the situation discreetly and waited for God’s intervention,” he said. “I was continuously praying in my heart all this time. As soon as I saw the police arrive, I left my cover and ran towards them. I told them my name and said I wanted to surrender myself.”
Police escorted him out of the area amid the angry mob, he said.
“I came to know about Fatima’s conversion claim when the police read out the FIR filed against me. I told them that I was innocent, and that there were eyewitnesses who would testify that no such incident had taken place at all,” he said.
Asher Sarfaraz, head of the group that provided legal aid to Bhatti, Christians True Spirit (CTS), said Bhatti’s discharge within two days was “nothing short of a miracle.”
“It’s very rare for someone to win their freedom from this damning charge so quickly,” he said. “We laud the police for investigating the matter fairly and ensuring justice for the innocent Christian. Bhatti has reunited with his family, but we think it will not be safe for them to return to their home as yet.”
CTS was in constant contact with the relevant superintendent of police and shared their findings with him, he said.
“After the couple confessed to the conspiracy against Bhatti, the police official informed us on the phone that he was dropping the charge against the Christian, but that he would hand his custody to us as a safety measure,” Sarfaraz said.
Blasphemy suspects in Pakistan are usually held in custody until trial and appeals are exhausted, and blasphemy against Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, is punishable by death. Conviction often comes with little legal evidence.
As a result, the blasphemy laws are often used as a weapon of revenge against both Muslims and non-Muslims to settle personal scores or to resolve disputes over money, property or business. In Pakistan, a mere allegation is enough to provoke a mob to riot and lynch those accused of blasphemy. At least 100 blasphemy accused have been extrajudicially killed from 1947 to 2023, according to various rights groups.
Fatima’s husband, Amanat Ali, escaped on Wednesday (Feb. 14) in spite of a crippled leg, Sarfaraz said.
“We were sitting at the police station when we came to know that Fatima’s husband Amanat, who had a crippled leg, had escaped from police custody when they were being taken to prison,” he said. “The police stopped their van at a tea stall and were enjoying the hot drink when Amanat, who was not fettered, jumped off the van and fled from the scene.”
He added that officers had already handed Fatima to judicial custody at the women’s jail, but due to lack of time they had not taken Amanat to jail and were bringing him back to the station.
The policemen ran in different directions searching for him, but he vanished, Safaraz said.
“Police were able to arrest Amanat after some hours, but his daring escape landed the negligent officials in hot waters,” he said. “The SP has suspended the team and also ordered the registration of a case against them.”
Sarfaraz said that the police had also detained two Christians named by the couple as their co-conspirators.
“These two men were also named as witnesses in the FIR against Bhatti, but they are pleading innocence,” he said. “We are pursuing the matter for a fair investigation.”
On Aug. 16, 2023, violent Muslim mobs ransacked and burned multiple churches and homes in Jaranwala over allegations that two Christian brothers had desecrated the Quran and written blasphemous content. Police investigations have revealed that a Christian named Pervaiz Masih entrapped the two brothers in the case because he suspected that the younger one was having an affair with his wife.
Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.
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