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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Pak blasphemy law takes one more toll

While Imran Khan continues with his tirade against Bharat and its Citizenship Amendment Act, Pakistan sentences another citizen to death for “blasphemy”. Pakistan’s Multan court recently convicted Junaid Hafeez, a 33-year-old Muslim professor, for blasphemy and for spreading anti-Islamic thoughts.

Hafeez has been imprisoned for six years, most of the time in solitary confinement and not allowed any visitors. The reason provided for his incarceration and separation from other jail inmates – the professor might be attacked and killed by religious extremists if allowed bail, or if kept amongst ordinary prisoners – such is the radicalization the population of this Islamic state suffers from.

Junaid Hafeez

Due to such security concerns, Hafeez’s trial was held within the premises of Central Jail of Multan.  He was sentenced to death including 10 years of rigorous imprisonment and also slapped with a fine of 5 lakh Pakistani rupees.

His defense attorney, Shahbaz Gormani, holds that his client has been convicted wrongly and that this verdict, sentencing Hafeez to death, would be challenged. Gormani is Junaid’s second lawyer. His first lawyer, Rashid Rehman, was murdered in 2014 shortly after agreeing to take up his case. After this harrowing incident, Junaid’s family faced great difficulty in arranging another lawyer to accept his case.

Who is Junaid Hafeez?

Junaid hailed from a middle-class business family that suffered huge losses in business after their US-returned son got embroiled in the case of ‘blasphemy & spreading anti-Islamic ideas’.

He is a young English literature graduate who was employed as a lecturer at Multan’s Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU). He was arrested by the local police in 2013, for having made ‘objectionable remarks’ that violated the country’s draconian blasphemy laws.

Junaid was gradually gaining fame as a reformist during his short stint as a faculty member at BZU. He would often deliver lectures on women’s rights. He was invited in one such event by British-Pakistani and freelance journalist, Qaisra Shahraz, and there began the tragedy.

It was reported that the lecturer made some ‘blasphemous remarks’ at the event and the news spread like wild-fire. Though a co-faculty member, Shirin Zubair, managed to flee the country, Junaid was not lucky enough and was soon apprehended. The trial went on for six years, with seven judges being transferred during the hearing. Fifteen witnesses testified at the court against Junaid accusing him of keeping anti-religious material in his laptop and flouting Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

To their credit, some rational voices in Pakistan are condemning the death sentence handed down to Junaid, but they have no support among the common public who are conditioned to blindly follow their neighborhood maulvis/imams.

Blasphemy Law in Pakistan

There is a strict definition of blasphemy as per Pakistani law and anyone committing the crime is liable to be prosecuted. Though there is no recorded execution in the country for blasphemy yet, lynchings and extrajudicial killings are commonplace.

Section 295-B of Pakistan Penal Code states, “Whoever willfully 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.”

Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code holds, “derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet,” “either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, . . . shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Here are some more details on the blasphemy law:

Back in 2010, a Pakistani Christian woman was imprisoned and sentenced to death for blasphemy. Due to massive international pressure, she was acquitted and has since left Pakistan, much to the outrage of several religious outfits in Pakistan. Asia Bibi is settled in Canada since May 2019.

Amidst the religious fanaticism drowning his own country, the Pakistani Prime Minister is passing time by making baseless comments about the RSS and Bharat. Fortunately, no sane being or institution pays heeds to what this man opines.

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