After several years of solitary confinement, 33-year-old Junaid Hafeez has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani court for the fictional crime of blasphemy.
Hafeez used to teach English at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan. He was a popular professor, but his progressive views didn’t go over well with Islamic groups and a student who soon accused him of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. He was quickly arrested on charges that he used a pseudonym to talk smack about Muhammad’s wives online.
His lawyers haven’t fared well either. One was shot dead even after threats were made against him in the courtroom. (Those who made the threats were not charged with any crimes.)
So it’s no wonder that Hafeez’s attempts at justice have failed.
The sentence was delivered by a court in the Central Jail in Multan, where Mr Hafeez was being held.
Prosecution lawyers, meanwhile, distributed sweets to their colleagues, who chanted “Allahu akbar” and “death to blasphemers”.
Amnesty International said the verdict was “a gross miscarriage of justice” and described it as “extremely disappointing and surprising”.
His current lawyer says the ruling will be appealed, but there’s little chance that this verdict will be overturned.
Asad Jamal, Hafeez’s lawyer, told Reuters news agency 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. “We have a spineless system. No one can stand up to a blasphemy charge.”
The blasphemy law itself is the problem. To suggest that criticism of religion is a crime worthy of any punishment says more about the thin skin of government officials, and the weakness of their beliefs, than anything about the supposed culprits. The law has become nothing more than a weapon for revenge against your enemies; accuse them of blasphemy and there’s no possible defense.
If he’s killed, Hafeez would be the first person executed in Pakistan for blasphemy. But there are approximately 40 others sitting on death row for the same reason. None of them deserve to be there.