The Never-Ending Ordeal Of Junaid Hafeez
Imad Zafar writes about blasphemy accused professor Junaid Hafeez’s 6-year-long ordeal that does not seem to have an end.
Sitting behind the bars in a dark and small cell, Professor Junaid Hafeez is fighting against the odds in hopes of getting justice from a system which has kept him incarcerated for over six years under trumped up charges of blasphemy.
Junaid Hafeez, a professor at Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, was charged with blasphemy and arrested in 2013, and has been in solitary confinement since his arrest.
Hafeez is a bright and progressive mind, who after getting education from Jackson State University, USA, chose to come back to his motherland to contribute to its progress. Little did he know that possessing critical and progressive views is nothing short of a crime in Pakistan. Hafeez was accused of blasphemy by the student wing of religious political party Jamat-e-Islami (JI).
It is a known fact that the accusation of blasphemy in Pakistan is considered reason enough for the accused to be persecuted. Hafeez’s only fault was that he wanted to teach his students to think critically, but the conservative mindset that wants to keep people hostage to the self-created religious interpretation, felt threatened by him.
Hafeez’s case has been pending in the courts since 2013, but the charge of blasphemy has not been proven against him in any court of the law nor has he been freed from the prison. In blasphemy cases, judges often fear backlash from the extremist groups which enjoy impunity in Pakistan.
His lawyer Rashid Rehman was gunned down in Multan in 2014, and his current lawyer is faced with the same threat. Hafeez has been kept in solitary confinement for his own safety, because there have been instances of jail mates attacking and killing blasphemy accused.
However, 6 productive years at a young age in prison for a crime that is yet to be proven is itself a punishment equivalent to death. Even if Hafeez is released, his life will never be the same again.
Blasphemy is considered an unforgivable sin in Pakistan and what is more agonizing is that it has mostly been used to settle personal scores or to hinder critical thinking. From late Punjab governor Salman Taseer to minister Shahbaz Bhatti, even the powerful politicians were not able to defend themselves against blasphemy allegations.
We witnessed how the pirs of different shrines in Punjab sided with Molvi Khadim Husain Rizvi when he let a sit-in at Faizabad against an amendment in the Election Act.
Social pressure and the fear of getting killed always come into the minds of the judges of the lower courts and they prefer to delay the verdict in the cases of blasphemy even when there is no solid proof against the victim. Asia Bibi case is an example in this regard where she was sentenced to death by the lower courts first and then by the high court but the Supreme Court acquitted her over lack of evidence.
Recently, the acquittal of Mujib-Ul-Hassan after 18 years of imprisonment in a false accusation of blasphemy charges has yet again given rise to the question that why we can’t have special courts to hear the blasphemy cases to ensure speedy trial.
The faith merchants should be countered and people like Hafeez should be given the opportunity to prepare the new generations who are capable of thinking critically.
The author is a regular contributor at various newspapers and websites. He has been associated with various TV channels. radio, newspapers, news agencies, political, policy and media related think tanks.