Pakistan anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Saturday convicted a former university lecturer of blasphemy and sentenced him to death. Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer at the Bahauddin Zakariya University in the central Pakistan city of Multan, was accused of blasphemy, having insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and its holy book, the Quran, verbally and on Facebook in 2013.
Additional Sessions Judge Kashif Qayyum sentenced Junaid Hafeez to death under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
Asad Jamal, Hafeez’s lawyer, said that he would appeal against the ruling in a higher court. “There can’t be a fair trial in blasphemy cases in Pakistan,” Jamal said, furthering: “We have a spineless system. No one can stand up to a blasphemy charge.”
Defence attorney Shahbaz Gormani said his client was wrongly convicted and that the verdict would be appealed.
Hafeez was a lecturer in English literature at Bahauddin Zakariya University in the city of Multan. Shortly after he began working there as a graduate student in 2011, he found himself targeted by an Islamist student group, Islami Jamiat Talaba (the student group affiliate of the Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami) and Tehrik-tahafaz-e-Namoos-e-risalat, who took issue with what they considered Hafeez’s “liberal” teaching.
The academic was arrested on March 13, 2013, having been accused of using a fake Facebook profile to insult the Prophet Muhammad in a closed group called “So-Called Liberals of Pakistan.” Since 2014, Hafeez has been held in solitary confinement because he would likely be killed if kept with the general population.
Due to security concerns, Saturday’s trial was held inside the jail where Hafeez is being held.
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan. Under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, anyone accused of “insulting” Islam can be sentenced to death. Dozens are sitting on death row in the country for alleged blasphemy.
In 2017, in a similar case, the anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Pakistan has sentenced a 30-year-old man, belonging to the minority Shia community, to death for allegedly posting blasphemous content on Facebook.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the country had in 2016 arrested 15 people – 10 Muslims and five non-Muslims – on blasphemy charges. Several other violent incidents linked to alleged blasphemy have alarmed human rights groups in recent times.