Pakistani authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Junaid Hafeez, a 33-year-old lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan, said Amnesty International today.
Junaid, who was also in the process of getting a graduate degree in English Literature, was charged with blasphemy over Facebook uploads.
Junaid’s lengthy trial has gravely affected his mental and physical health, endangered him and his family and exemplifies the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.Rabia Mehmood, Amnesty International's Regional Reseaarcher
He has been in solitary confinement since June 2014. For the past year or so, the conditions of his solitary confinement have been described as “extreme.”
“Junaid’s case is a travesty. Pakistani authorities must guarantee his safety and that of his family and legal representatives. Their failure to do so in the past has already borne the worst consequences,” said Rabia Mehmood, Regional Researcher at Amnesty International.
Currently, his case is with the eighth judge since his trial began, with previous judges being transferred. There have been severe delays in the proceedings and in May 2014, his counsel Rashid Rehman was gunned down in his office after receiving threats in open court for defending Junaid.
“Junaid’s lengthy trial has gravely affected his mental and physical health, endangered him and his family and exemplifies the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. The authorities must release him immediately and unconditionally and drop all charges against him.”
“Amnesty International considers Junaid to be a prisoner of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.”
“The Pakistani authorities should move swiftly to repeal the blasphemy laws,” said Rabia Mehmood.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are overly broad, vague and coercive. They have been used to target religious minorities, pursue personal vendettas and carry out vigilante violence.
For example, Asia Bibi, a Christian farmworker, was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010. In late October 2018, Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted her of all charges and ordered her immediate release. However, in the face of pressure from parts of the public involving threats of violence and unrest, the government later backtracked and agreed to stop Asia Bibi leaving the country until the Supreme Court heard a “review petition” in her case.
On 29 January 2019, the Supreme Court dismissed the review petition and upheld her acquittal. Once released, Asia Bibi was kept in protective custody out of security concerns. She was only able to depart the country for Canada in May 2019.