No Justice For Blasphemy-Accused Junaid Hafeez
Almost a year ago, spectacular fireworks were taking place all over the world to mark new beginnings. Similarly, Pakistan too celebrated the new years with traditional passion and zeal. Roads were blocked, restaurants and cafes fully booked while thousands came out to spectate the much-awaited fireworks. As soon as the clock struck twelve, the sky glared in prominent places like Bahria Town and Sea View.
This marked a much-needed end to a momentous year that witnessed some distressing events which included Sahiwal incident, the brutal atrocities committed against Muslims in Kashmir and barbaric lawyers vandalising hospitals and beating doctors. While most people slept that night with a hope for better times ahead, some were languishing in jails counting their days.
Among the latter was a bright, optimistic and resilient 33-year-old Junaid Hafeez, a former university lecturer accused of posting derogatory remarks about Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) on social media. He had been charged under sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code and still remains in solitary confinement. In 2013, he was incarcerated when an Islamist group at the university he taught started challenging his ordeals of teaching and eventually launched a malicious campaign against him. He was mocked, disrespected and labelled as an ‘American Agent.’
“I take two to three books along whenever I visit Junaid. Uptill now, he has read around 5000 books” says, Junaid’s father.
After completing his undergraduate studies with a GPA of 3.99, Junaid went on to pursue his Masters in American Literature, Photography and Theatre on a fullbright scholarship. A person of this calibre and academic excellence could have easily settled abroad with many opportunities on his plate, instead he chose to return to serve his country unaware of what the future held for him.
Today marks one year to the death sentence awarded to Junaid by a District and Session Court in Multan on 21 December 2019 – a foreseeable decision. Earlier in 2014, Attorney Rashid Rehman who represented him was gunned down in his office. It has also been claimed that Junaid’s hefty trial process was unfair.
Pakistan’s broad blasphemy laws have been under severe criticism, as they are blamed for targeting minorities, activists etc. More than 1700 blasphemy cases have been registered in Pakistan between 1987 to 2019. Around 80 people have fallen prey and were killed as a result of false blasphemy accusations. To add fuel, there is a stigma attached to these laws and any discussion brings unwanted controversy. Anyone brave enough to openly drop his two cents on this issue faces severe repercussions.
The minorities in Pakistan often claim for being at a disadvantage due to rampart social and legal discrimination they face on daily basis. This can be evidenced by the earlier occurrences of 2013 twin suicide bomb killing 127 people, mobs being carried out on regular basis by religious fanatics and then legal instruments passed like these laws that completely marginalise the minorities. While almost everyone all over the world is battling this deadly pandemic — Covid 19, some reports emerged that rations were being denied to Christians and Hindus in the coastal areas of Karachi and were reserved for Muslims only.
It would be totally immoral to say that the current situation is better than ever before. Rising sectarianism, religious fundamentalism and bigoted calls for Sharia imposition are our own problems. Incidents like these depict how blasphemy has been the modern manifestation of fanaticism and how bigotry and fanaticism have been democratised in this age of information. It makes one wonder how the state has weaponised blasphemy and seeped it into self-identity and religion.
One feels hopeless and completely lies in a state of despair. Among all the injustices — Asia Bibi’s landmark verdict and acquittal after 9 years on death row certainly provides a ray of hope and restores faith in the senior judiciary. The fate of this scholar who has already wasted eight precious years in jail lies in their hands. In order to counter the current commotion of the country, it is imperative for the government to fight this growing intolerance and high time when lawmakers step in to amend these outdated laws. These eight years cannot be returned to Junaid but justice surely can. May God be with us all!