Culture

Pakistani Academic Sentenced to Death for 'Blasphemy'

(Image via Twitter)

Junaid Hafeez, a university lecturer, was arrested in March 2013 and accused of posting derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad on social media. On Saturday, a court sentenced him to death for the “crime” of blasphemy.

Hafeez had been targeted by a fundamentalist student group that opposed his liberal teachings. It’s unclear exactly what comments led to his arrest and conviction, but this is Pakistan and the Islamists wanted him dead.

The professor had a difficult time trying to find anyone to defend him. His first lawyer was murdered. His next lawyer needed around-the-clock protection. He had to be placed in solitary confinement while in prison because he had been beaten by other prisoners several times.

This is what passes for “justice” in Pakistan.

Guardian:

He alleged that during the trial that the prosecutor had not presented concrete evidence against Hafeez but had instead warned the judge that he was “against Islam” and that in Pakistan the case was “sensitive”. “It was the point I realised they were just using the religious card, which was immoral and unethical precedent in the court,” he said.

In a statement released by Hafeez’s family, they said the murder of his previous lawyer in 2014 and the failure to bring anyone to justice for the killing meant that “the prospect of Hafeez getting a fair trial came into question”.

They accused the courts of ignoring the lack of evidence and instead succumbing to outside threats in the verdict. “The failure to apprehend those who shot his lawyer Rehman dead signalled impunity for other would-be vigilantes,” said the family. “Could any judge in such circumstances take the risk of doing justice? Those who could were transferred from the district or brought under pressure by groups of lawyers operating as a mafia.”

It’s one thing to have courage. It’s another to commit suicide. We shouldn’t blame the judges, or his defense lawyer. The fix was in and was going to be enforced by a Muslim mob.

I want to be tolerant. I want to have an expansive view of all religions. But this kind of “justice” is not peculiar to Pakistan. It is a theme that runs through the courts of many Islamic states. As the BBC points out, Pakistan and most other Islamic countries inherited their blasphemy laws from colonial times. But the British never signed off on a death penalty for insulting Islam. That detail was left to the fundamentalists who embraced the concept.

It’s true that no one has been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, but there are several dozen people on death row and others have received long prison sentences.

That we live in 2019  and this kind of “justice” exists in the modern world is just amazing.