Pakistani court's conviction of Muslim professor in a blasphemy case on December 21 has fueled outrage. A South Asia researcher for Amnesty International, Rabia Mehmood labelled the ruling for a death sentence to Junaid Hafeez as 'vile and gross miscarriage of justice'. Hafeez was held in solitary confinement for six years awaiting his trial for allegedly spreading anti-Islamic ideas. The reason for keeping the academic in confinement was reportedly because he would have been killed by the general population.
Junaid Hafeez, blasphemy accused university teacher of Bahauddin Zakariya Uni, on trial for blasphemy for more than six years has been sentenced to death today by a Multan court. This is a vile and gross miscarriage of justice. #junaidhafeez #blasphemylaw— Rabia Mehmood - رابعہ (@Rabail26) December 21, 2019
The Saturday trial was held in the jail where Hafeez was kept where the judge sentenced him to death. Hafeez's lawyer Shahbaz Gormani said that his client has been wrongly convicted and that the verdict would be appealed. The controversial law of blasphemy in Pakistan states automatic death penalty for anyone accused of insulting God, Islam and other religious figures. Hafeez was arrested after some students at the university in Multan accused him of blasphemy. However, the defence lawyer said that the lecturer was framed by students from an extremist Islamist party for his liberal and secular views.
In December, Hafeez was also placed in the list of global victims by a United States religious freedom commission. Lawyer Asad Jamal confessed that 'there can't be fair trial' in Pakistan when it comes down to the blasphemy cases. Jamal reportedly called the country's judiciary as 'spineless' and that 'no one can stand up to a blasphemy charge'. Prosecutors on the other hand claim that investigators retrieved anti-religious material from the Hafeez's laptop. The visiting lecturer in the city of Multan was arrested in 2013 for allegedly displaying blasphemous content.
Hafeez quit his studies at Pakistan's top medical college to pursue his passion for art and literature. He has also secured a Fulbright scholarship and attended Jackson State University in Mississippi where he specialised in American literature, photography, and theatre. Even though the authorities are yet to carry out a death sentence for blasphemy just the mere accusation of the same can cause riots. Domestic as well as international human rights groups have said that blasphemy allegations have been used in order to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores. In 2011, a Punjab governor was killed by his guard on defending a Christian woman Aasia Bibi, who was also accused of blasphemy.