Pakistan’s death sentence for Junaid Hafeez was condemned by independent UN human rights experts, calling the ruling of his blasphemy charge “a travesty of justice”, despite last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling in which Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi was tried, condemned to hang for blasphemy but was later acquitted.
The 33 year-old lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University was arrested on March 13, 2013 and charged for allegedly making blasphemous remarks during lectures and on his Facebook account. The sentence was imposed by a district and sessions court in Multan last December 21.
“The Supreme Court ruling in the Asia Bibi case should have set a precedent for lower courts to dismiss any blasphemy case that has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt,” the experts said.
Moreover, the rights experts raised concerns in an urgent appeal to the Government over the legal merits of the case.
“In the light of this ruling, the guilty verdict against Mr.Hafeez is a travesty of justice, and we condemn the death sentence imposed on him”, spelled out the independent experts.
“We urge Pakistan’s superior courts to promptly hear his appeal, overturn the death sentence and acquit him.”
International law permits the death penalty only in exceptional circumstances, and requires incontrovertible evidence of intentional murder, the experts noted.
“The death sentence imposed on Mr. Hafeez has no basis in either law or evidence, and therefore contravenes international law”, they continued, adding that “carrying out the sentence would amount to an arbitrary killing,” they said.
They expressed their serious concern that blasphemy charges are still being brought against people “legitimately exercising their rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression”.
Mr. Hafeez has been in solitary confinement since his trial began in 2014, seriously affecting his mental and physical health.
“Prolonged solitary confinement may well amount to torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” the experts said.
Mr. Hafeez’s case has gone through lengthy trials in Multan, with the prosecution failing to provide convincing evidence of his guilt, they pointed out, while also noting that “some documentary evidence submitted to the court was never subjected to independent forensic review despite allegations it had been fabricated, and that a lawyer representing Mr.Hafeez in 2014, Rashid Rehman, was murdered and the killers have not been brought to justice”.
“There seems to be a climate of fear among members of the judiciary handling this case, which may explain why at least seven judges were transferred during this lengthy trial”, the UN experts concluded. (Source: UN News)