Pakistan: Academic gets death sentence for blasphemy after six years in solitary confinement
Junaid Hafeez’s first lawyer had received multiple death threats and was killed in 2014.
A Pakistan professor on Saturday was sentenced to death by a court in Multan in a blasphemy case. Blasphemy allegations are taken very seriously in the country, with even unproven claims leading to mob attacks and lynchings.
Junaid Hafeez was arrested in March 2013 for allegedly posting derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammed on social media, Dawn reported. Hafeez was also given 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1,00,000.
Hafeez’s first lawyer had received multiple death threats and was killed in 2014 during a hearing. During the course of the trial, at least seven judges were transferred.
His lawyer has said that they will appeal against the verdict. His family in a statement said the death sentence was “an unfortunate verdict which has less to do with the legal merits of the case and more with the sociopolitical environment in which the lower judiciary operates and for which no one seems to care”. They asked, “Could any judge in such circumstances take the risk of doing justice?”
According to Hafeez’s family and Amnesty International, he has been in solitary confinement for more than six years. “For the past year or so, the conditions of his solitary confinement have been described as ‘extreme’,” Amnesty said. “Junaid’s lengthy trial has gravely affected his mental and physical health, endangered him and his family and exemplifies the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.”
Rights groups have long said Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been misused in cases of personal vendetta and against minority groups.
In 2018, Asia Bibi, who had earlier been sentenced to death for blasphemy, was acquitted, after which there were violent protests. Due to security concerns, she was not immediately released and her lawyer had to flee the country. Bibi now lives in Canada.