MULTAN: A district and sessions court on Saturday sentenced a former university lecturer to death on blasphemy charges.
Junaid Hafeez — a visiting lecturer at the Department of English Literature of the Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU), Multan — was booked on a blasphemy charge on March 13, 2013. He was arrested the same day.
The trial began in 2014 and the court reserved its verdict on Dec 18.
Additional District and Sessions Judge Kashif Qayyum announced the decision on Saturday in the presence of the accused at the New Central Jail.
The court found Hafeez guilty of all charges and handed down 10-year imprisonment under Section 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs); life term under Section 295-B (defiling, etc, of Holy Quran) and death sentence under Section 295-C (use of derogatory remarks, etc, in respect of the Holy Prophet) of the Pakistan Penal Code.
It also imposed a collective fine of Rs600,000 and in case of default he would have to undergo an additional one-year imprisonment.
“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 lenient view and it is also not permitted in Islam,” ruled the court.
Section 382-B of the criminal procedure code says the length of any sentence of imprisonment imposed upon an accused person in respect of any offence shall be treated as reduced by any period during which he was detained in custody for such offence.
As many as 15 prosecution witnesses recorded their statements against Hafeez while 11 others were not called for being declared irrelevant.
The hearings of the case were held inside the prison due to security concerns.
In April 2014, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed serious concerns when death threats were extended to Special Task Force Coordinator of the HRCP Rashid Rehman Khan, who was representing Hafeez in court.
Mr Rehman and another person appeared before the judge on April 9 and during the arguments for acquittal, three persons addressed Mr Rehman in the judge’s presence and said: “You will not come to court next time because you will not exist anymore.”
He drew the court’s attention to the threat but the judge was reported to have remained silent.
Mr Rehman was gunned down in the HRCP office on May 7 by unidentified gunmen. Chehliyak SHO Abbas Gill was suspended from service over his failure to protect Mr Rehman despite the fact that he and the HRCP complained to police about the threats he had been receiving. On the report of the Chief Minister’s Inspection Team, then SSP Operations Shaukat Abbas too was suspended.
In July 2015, another lawyer for Hafeez submitted an application to police that he had been receiving threats with a warning to withdraw himself from the case.
Also, the BZU administration succumbed to the pressure of a religious group the next year and removed Dr Sheerin Zubair, the chairperson of the English department, and initiated an inquiry against her.
Meanwhile, the HRCP said it was dismayed by the verdict handed down to academic Junaid Hafeez.
“The HRCP believes that the blasphemy laws are heavily misused. This is compounded by a trial process ridden by delays and pressures at the level of the lower judiciary. The offence itself is already associated with vigilantism and entrenched impunity — underscored by the 2014 murder of Hafeez’s lawyer, Rashid Rehman. The resulting pressure on lower courts becomes apparent when most such verdicts are overturned by the High Court or Supreme Court,” it says.
The HRCP reposed its faith in the higher judiciary and expressed hope that “the verdict will be overturned in appeal”.
Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2019