On the heels of news where a Pakistani court sentenced one person to death and five others to life imprisonment for the lynching and killing of Mashal Khan on accusations of blasphemy comes the news of further delays in the case of Junaid Hafeez.
Junaid Hafeez, formerly a visiting faculty member at the Department of English at Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU) in Multan, was arrested under charges of committing blasphemy on March 13, 2013. Mr. Hafeez’s trial has been dragging on for several years due to frequent transfers of presiding judges, absence of prosecution witnesses, and other reasons beyond the defendant’s control.
His case has once again been transferred to a new judge and human rights activists are concerned that his right to a fair trial will be further undermined. Pakistan. In a recent statement the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed fear that “if a fair trial is not ensured this time round, Mr. Hafeez may end up spending another 5-10 years in prison.”
According to a story in Dawn “When the case first came to prominence in 2013, finding a lawyer to defend Junaid wasn’t an easy job for his father. At this point, director of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), I.A. Rehman, referred him to the late Rashid Rehman — a Multan-based lawyer who was also the HRCP’s organiser in Multan. Mr Hafeez still remembers how Rashid had reviewed the case even before he was approached. “He had studied the case thoroughly, went on campus to find the facts, and was totally prepared.”” However, on May 7, 2014, human rights activist and lawyer Rashid Rehman who took up his case was gunned down.
Subsequently, finding a legal representative proved extremely difficult for Mr. Hafeez’s family.
According to HRCP:
“The transfer of Mr. Hafeez’s case to a new judge when the defence has already tested the prosecution’s account – and the trial is near conclusion – seriously undermines the defendant’s right to a fair trial. A new judge at this stage will fail to understand the nuances of cross-examination because it was conducted before another judge. It will certainly lead to an inordinate delay in the disposal of the case and add to the suffering of the accused. Mr. Hafeez has a legitimate expectation that the judge who heard the case through cross-examination of the prosecution’s witnesses and challenges to its evidence preside over the concluding stages of the trial.”
Further, “the situation is made worse by the fact that Mr. Hafeez has been detained in solitary confinement since May 2014 in a high security prison in Multan. Jail authorities claim this is so because he faces a threat to his life even inside the prison. Furthermore, Mr. Hafeez’s lawyer has been denied an opportunity to meet him in private in prison. Mr. Hafeez’s right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time, an essential component of the right to a fair trial, is enshrined in article 10A of the Constitution of Pakistan and laid down in international human rights instruments. HRCP therefore condemns the transfer of Mr. Hafeez’s case, in the strongest possible terms, and reiterates that Pakistan’s national and international human rights obligations do not support such vehement and uncalled for disregard of the human rights of any of its citizens.”