Junaid Hafeez (Image: ANI)
After keeping former university lecturer Junaid Hafeez,33, in solitary confinement for six years, a Pakistan court has sentenced him to death on blasphemy charges.
He used to teach at Multan’s Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU) till the time he was arrested by police in 2013. His trial went on for six years, and seven judges were transferred during that period. But, the larger question remains. Why is a US-return English literature graduate being sent to the gallows?
During his stint as a lecturer at BZU, Hafeez would often call on women’s rights activists to attend guest lectures he would arrange. Television writer Qaisra Shahraz was also invited to one such event, where Hafeez reportedly made blasphemous remarks. The news spread fast. Shirin Zubair, the head of the literature department, had to flee Pakistan. Hafeez, however, was not so lucky and was imprisoned shortly.
Within months of the beginning of Hafeez’s trial proceedings, his lawyer was killed. Fifteen people addressed the court from the witness stand before prosecutors established that the young professor had kept anti-religious material on his laptop.
Hafeez’s parents, however, were convinced that the case is ‘fabricated’. They also informed the-then judge that the case was being delayed on purpose and that they were finding it difficult to get a lawyer for him. Yet, the Multan court sentenced Hafeez to death including 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment on charges of flouting Pakistan’s blasphemy law, aside from slapping a fine of 5 lakh in Pakistani rupees (equivalent to Rs 2.30 lakh).
So, what is Pakistan's blasphemy law?
Pakistan Penal Code’s Section 295-C states: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”
Section 295-B, on the other hand, states: “Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.”
So far, no one has been executed in Pakistan for blasphemy, but extrajudicial killings are rampant. A similar case surfaced back in 2010 when a Christian woman named Asia Bibi was sentenced to death for blasphemy. She, however, was acquitted later on for lack of evidence.
Meanwhile, #JusticeForJunaidHafeez is trending on Twitter by users who claim him to be innocent.
(With agency inputs)