Blasphemy in Pakistan
BLASPHEMY IN PAKISTAN
Junaid is one of 40 people convicted of blasphemy waiting on death row.
After six years in solitary confinement (alone in prison) in Multan, Pakistan, Junaid Hafeez – a 33-year-old university lecturer – was given a death sentence in December 2019. They say he used the name of Prophet Muhammad in a bad way. This is called blasphemy.
Junaid’s father, Hafeez-ul Naseer, thinks the government was punishing Junaid for what he was teaching in the English department at Bahauddin Zakariya University in 2011. The Islamist religious leaders did not agree with what he taught.
The religious leaders led a campaign to sack Junaid. They organised a strike and gave out leaflets that said he must leave and be hanged. Soon Junaid lost his house and his teaching contract. Then he was arrested – they said this arrest was for posting comments against Islam on social media.
Not many lawyers in Pakistan agree to represent people who are accused of blasphemy. Rightwing religious people often threaten to kill them if they do. Junaid’s first lawyer quit, and his second lawyer, Rashid Rehman, told the BBC that representing a blasphemy defendant is very dangerous. Rehman was threatened, then shot and killed at his work in 2014.
In Pakistan’s legal system, if you talk about blasphemy, this is also blasphemy. So they could not discuss the evidence for Junaid’s guilt in court. After the death sentence was announced, prosecution lawyers gave out sweets – they celebrated the decision as a win for their religion.
In 2010, Junaid was optimistic about the future of his teaching in Pakistan. He had just come back from studying English and Theatre as a Fulbright scholar in Jackson, Mississippi. And he gave an interview to a local radio station in Multan.
He said that he chose to return to his home in Rajanpur district to be a lecturer because he wanted to do something socially useful in Pakistan. Junaid had been studying medicine before, but he changed to studying literature. ‘Through poetry, you can escape,’ he said. ‘You can see a different vision for the world.’
Amnesty International is against the death sentence and called for the immediate release of Junaid. They said his long trial has badly affected his mental and physical health, it has put him and his family in danger, and it is an example of the wrong use of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Junaid is not the first person to suffer like this. People are often accused of blasphemy as revenge, or to stop religious minorities and progressive Muslims. Lawyers try to get more business, by saying they will represent people who accuse others of blasphemy and they won’t need to pay if they don’t win.
Last year a Christian rural labourer, Asia Bibi, was set free by the Supreme Court after spending 10 years on death row for blasphemy. There were riots after she was freed. So she and her family had to move to many different safe houses. Finally she was given asylum in Canada. Her lawyer also went to another country to be safe.
No-one has yet been executed for blasphemy. But Junaid is one of 40 people convicted of blasphemy and now waiting on death row.
NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/features/2020/02/10/pakistan-blasphemy-verdict
(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)