A Pakistani supporter of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a hardline Islamist group, stands over an image of Christian woman Asia Bibi at a protest in Islamabad on Nov. 2, 2018, following her acquittal in a blasphemy case. (Photo: AFP)
The parents of a Pakistani lecturer accused of blasphemy by Islamist students have appealed to the country’s top judge for justice. Junaid Hafeez, a visiting lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University in the central Pakistani city of Multan, was charged with blasphemy over Facebook posts deemed offensive to Islam. However, his supporters say he was targeted to prevent him from securing a permanent teaching job. The 33-year-old has been in jail since June 2014 because no lawyer has been willing to take up his case after his first lawyer Rashid Rahman was murdered soon after taking the job. In a letter on Nov. 26, Junaid’s parents appealed to Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa to intervene. “Our son Junaid Hafeez has been suffering in solitary confinement in a dark cell at Multan’s central jail for the last six years,” his mother Rubina and father Muhammad wrote. “He is still awaiting justice due to the delaying tactics of prosecutors, the frequent transfer of judges and the sensitive nature of the case.
“We are still waiting for the verdict to be announced despite the fact three months have passed since the last witness, a police officer, was questioned. The prosecution has now filed another five objections that are intended to delay the verdict. “Our son has been living a life of fear and loneliness and is under extreme mental pressure. Dear Lordship, please have mercy, get us justice and let this agony end.” Law needs amendment
Joseph Francis, a leading Catholic activist and head of the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), a rights group that helps victims of religious persecution, is hoping the judge responds favorably. “I myself have written letters to the chief justice regarding two Christian inmates who are facing blasphemy charges,” Francis told ucanews. “The chief justice was kind enough to write back and address our concerns.” He added, however, that the only way to permanently solve the ongoing issue with blasphemy cases was to amend the law to stop it being abused. Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in this conservative Muslim nation where mere claims can get you lynched or imprisoned for years without conviction. Scores of accused people have been killed over the years and even those declared innocent by the courts are forced to remain in hiding. Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother of five, spent nearly a decade in jail after being sentenced to death for blasphemy. Her conviction was finally overturned by the Supreme Court last year, at which point she speedily fled the country. Rights activists argue blasphemy laws which carry capital punishment are often used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas or to target religious minorities.
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