Pakistan: Lecturer accused of blasphemy for Facebook posts must be released

Pakistani authorities must immediately and unconditionally release a university lecturer being held in solitary confinement for Facebook posts, Amnesty International said today.

Junaid Hafeez, a 33-year-old lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University in the city of Multan, was charged with blasphemy over social media posts, and has been in solitary confinement since June 2014.

For the past year, the conditions of his solitary confinement have been described as “extreme”. He is due to appear again in court tomorrow (Tuesday 1 October).

Currently, Hafeez’s case is with the eighth judge since his trial began, with previous judges being transferred to other cases. There have been severe delays in the proceedings and, in May 2014, his counsel Rashid Rehman was murdered in his office after receiving threats in open court for defending Junaid.

Rabia Mehmood, Regional Researcher at Amnesty International, said:

“Junaid’s case is a travesty. His lengthy trial has gravely affected his mental and physical health, endangered him and his family, and exemplifies the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

“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.

“Amnesty International considers Junaid to be a prisoner of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.

“The authorities must release him immediately and unconditionally and drop all charges against him. The Pakistani authorities should move swiftly to repeal the blasphemy laws.”

Misuse of blasphemy laws

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.

In 2010, Asia Bibi, a Christian farmworker, was sentenced to death for blasphemy. In October last year, 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.

In January this year, 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 this year.

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