Death sentence for Pakistani scholar Junaid Hafeez for 'blasphemous' posts on Facebook; lawyer slams 'spineless system'

  • A court in Pakistan has awarded a death sentence to Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer at a university in Multan, on charges of blasphemy

  • Hafeez's lawyer Asad Jamal said he would appeal against the ruling in a higher court, adding that there can't be a fair trial in Pakistan in blasphemy cases

  • Hafeez is a masters graduate from Jackson State University in the United States. He earlier won the Fulbright Scholarship

A Pakistan court convicted a university lecturer of blasphemy and sentenced him to death on Saturday, six years after trial began based on allegations of him uploading insulting content on Facebook about the Prophet Mohammed and Quran.

Junaid Hafeez, a visiting lecturer at the Department of English Literature of the Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU) in Multan city of Punjab Province, was booked for blasphemy and arrested on 13 March, 2013, according to Reuters.

 Death sentence for Pakistani scholar Junaid Hafeez for blasphemous posts on Facebook; lawyer slams spineless system

File image of Junaid Hafeez. ANI

He has been lodged in the high-security ward of New Central Jail in Multan since 2014 when the trial in the case began, reports further added.

While pronouncing the sentence, additional sessions judge Kashif Qayyum ordered Hafeez to pay a fine of Rs 0.5 million under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), in the case of default he will undergo further imprisonment of six months, The Dawn reported. The former university lecturer was awarded life imprisonment under Section 295-B and 10 years of rigorous imprisonment along with a fine of Rs 1,00,000 under Section 295-A.

"All the sentences shall run consecutively and the accused would not be entitled to the benefit of Section 382-B CrPC because in case of blasphemer, this court has got no circumstance for taking a lenient view and it is also not permitted in Islam," read the judgment.

Hafeez's lawyer Asad Jamal said he will appeal against the ruling in a higher court. "There can't be a fair trial in blasphemy cases in Pakistan," said Jamal, adding, "We have a spineless system. No one can stand up to a blasphemy charge."

His previous attorney, Rashid Rehman, was shot dead in his office in 2014. Before the court's verdict was pronounced, parents of Hafeez had appealed to former Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa to look into the matter and sought justice for their son, fearing for his mental and physical well-being.

In their plea, Hafeez’s parents also said that he has been in jail on false charges. "Due to transfer of many judges, delaying tactics of prosecution witnesses, and difficulties finding adequate legal counsel for the defence because of the sensitive nature of the case, our son continues to await justice in a fabricated case," Junaid's parents wrote to the then Chief Justice.

Hafeez is a masters graduate from Jackson State University in the United States. He earlier won the Fulbright Scholarship. After returning to Pakistan, he joined the BZU's English literature department.

Amnesty International, a United Kingdom-based rights group, called Saturday's verdict "a travesty". "Junaid Hafeez's death sentence is a gross miscarriage of justice," Rabia Mehmood, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty, told Al Jazeera. "The verdict of the Multan court is extremely disappointing and surprising. Junaid's entire case and lengthy trial has been unfair and a travesty."

At least 75 people have been killed in connection with blasphemy accusations in Pakistan since 1990, according to an Al Jazeera tally. The murdered include those accused of the crime, people acquitted by the courts, their lawyers, family members and judges connected to their cases.

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Updated Date: Dec 22, 2019 11:20:33 IST