After six years of being in prison under blasphemy charges, 33-year old Junaid Hafeez, professor at Bahauddin Zakaria University in Multan, was awarded the death sentence.
Hafeez “obtained a Master’s degree in the US on a Fulbright Scholarship, specialising in American literature, photography and theatre. After returning to Pakistan he took up a lecturer position at Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU) in Multan, where he worked until his arrest. He was accused of having insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and its holy book, the Quran, verbally and on Facebook in 2013. Hafeez has been held in solitary confinement due to security concerns since 2014 when his lawyer, prominent rights activist Rashid Rehman, was murdered. The attack came after Rehman had been threatened in open court by religious leaders and lawyers associated with the prosecution.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed dismay at the verdict. “HRCP believes that the blasphemy laws are heavily misused. This is compounded by a trial process ridden by delays and pressures at the level of the lower judiciary. The offence itself is already associated with vigilantism and entrenched impunity – underscored by the 2014 murder of Mr Hafeez’s lawyer, Rashid Rehman. The resulting pressure on lower courts becomes apparent when most such verdicts are overturned by the High Court or Supreme Court. In five years, at least eight judges have heard Mr Hafeez’s case, making a fair trial virtually impossible. Meanwhile, he has undergone six years’ imprisonment in solitary confinement. Aasia Bibi, who was charged similarly, was acquitted after eight years’ incarceration. There are grave implications here for access to justice in such cases. HRCP reposes its faith in the higher judiciary and hopes that the verdict will be overturned in appeal.”