Junaid Hafeez, an adjunct lecturer at the Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan, a city in the southern part of Punjab province in Pakistan, faces trial for blasphemy after being incarcerated for more than a year.
According to reports, a student in the English Department where Professor Hafeez was an adjunct lecturer accused him of making blasphemous statements on Facebook. After the accusation was made, a large crowd of students gathered on campus and demanded action be taken against Hafeez. Hafeez fled to Lahore that day, but was arrested, returned to Multan, and imprisoned on March 14, 2013. Police reportedly reviewed information provided by the students and found it sufficient register a case against Hafeez for blasphemy under 295b and 295c of the Pakistan Penal Code, which can carry a death sentence. The magistrate judge who arraigned Hafeez ordered that he remain in custody. The Principal of Bahauddin Zakariya University subsequently terminated Hafeez’s teaching contract and his admission to the MPhil Program.
In April 2014, Rashid Rehman, an attorney retained by Junaid Hafeez reported that he had been threatened by five people over the course of two days, demanding that he drop the case. In June 2013 newspapers published reports stating that Hafeez’s first two defense lawyers withdrew from the case because of threats to their lives.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution of a scholar on allegations which, even if proven true, amount to nonviolent expressive content. Aside from the harms to the individual, prosecution and threats of violence for expressive conduct can undermine academic freedom and institutional autonomy.
Scholars at Risk is also concerned about alleged acts of intimidation against the scholar’s defense attorneys. Such acts can deny the defendant a reasonable opportunity to refute the charges against him, further undermining academic freedom and eroding confidence in legal proceedings. State authorities have an obligation to protect higher education communities and their members against outside interference and violence, including ensuring physical safety and due process of law in any proceedings, including representation by qualified counsel.
UPDATE: This incident is followed by an update. To view, please click here.
UPDATE: On December 21, 2019, the court sentenced Mr. Hafeez to death. As of this update, his lawyers continued to appeal the verdict.