April 16, 2024

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Death Sentence for academic liberty in Pakistan

Protests, rioting, fasting and even holding the administrative office to ransom. These incidents related to University campus is common. But what if I told you the State, the government of the country and the legal system bows down to the fundamentalists of Islam and sentences an academic liberal to death sentence, then you might think I am talking about Syria or some region where Taliban still exists. I must tell you; you are wrong again.

In Pakistan, University lecturer Junaid Hafeez, 33, was sentenced to death on 21.12.2019 on blasphemy charges. He has been in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, while awaiting trial for six years.

What was his crime?

Some fundamentalist students at the Bahauddin Zakariya University, where Hafeez teaches in the English department, accused Hafeez of being quite ‘liberal’ in his views when it came to teaching subject matters. This essentially translates into saying that Hafeez should have been orthodox and fundamentalist when it came to teaching.

Soon he was framed in a false case in which he was accused of running a Facebook closed group called "So-Called Liberals of Pakistan." Under a fake name where he insulted Prophet Muhammed.

What was the insult? This has never been revealed? And even if it was, sentencing to death sentence is plainly inhuman.

Junaid Hafeez is no ordinary scholar. He is a Fulbright Scholar who returned from the USA to teach in Pakistan. Alas, he ended up being targeted by the fundamentalists.

Pakistan’s blasphemy law is rather stringent and leaves it ambiguous when it comes to defining what is exactly blasphemy and what is not thus leaving to interpretation by the judiciary, who usually under the pressure of the fundamentalists and the radical group tend to give in. The word ‘INDEPENDENT’ and “JUDICIARY’ don’t go along at all in Pakistan.

His case hangs in the limbo and Hafeez’s lawyer has promised to appeal to the higher court while his family members await anxiously.

A few from the international community have raised their voices but most of the media houses are silent. Within Pakistan, offices of media houses like The Dawn have been attacked and people have protested violently.

Who will save Islam from the radicals when the academics are not safe? You corrupt the brain and the entire body goes berserk. No wonder, the learned, progressive minds within Islam choose to remain quiet while the fundamentalists reign supreme.

The government lays with its fists closed and the Imran Khan government stands emasculated.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws have come under hefty criticism, as they have often been used to target minorities, activists, and to settle personal vendettas. Although no one has yet been executed under the laws, about 40 people are currently sitting on death row due to blasphemy convictions.

According to rights groups, around 1,549 blasphemy cases were registered in Pakistan between 1987 and 2017. More than 75 people have been killed extra-judicially after blasphemy allegations. Some of them were even targeted after being acquitted in blasphemy cases by courts.

Pakistan's Christians and other religious minorities have often complained of legal and social discrimination in the country. In the past few years, many Christians and Hindus have been brutally murdered over unproven blasphemy allegations.

In one case, a young Christian girl with Down syndrome was accused in August 2012 of burning pages upon which verses of the Koran were inscribed.


In 2017, a 23-year-old journalism student in Pakistan was killed by a vigilante mob over allegations of blasphemy.

Last year, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, was acquitted on appeal and left the country, provoking violent protests across Pakistan.

Rimsha Masih was taken into police custody and only released months later, when charges were dropped. The case caused an uproar in her hometown and beyond, and sparked riots and violence against Christians in the region. In 2013, she and her family relocated to Canada.

In 2014, a Christian couple was beaten to death for allegedly desecrating a copy of the Koran. Their bodies were subsequently burned in a brick kiln.

In September last year, a Christian man in Pakistan was sentenced to death for sharing "blasphemous material" on WhatsApp.

 As such, The Citizenship Amendment Act should be implemented swiftly and the Indian Government should try and take the minorities out of Pakistan as soon as possible and give them a home in India. The same CAA should also be extended to the people who are being murdered in the name of blasphemy law in Pakistan. It is our humanitarian duty to protect those who are being executed on baseless charges. 


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Last modified on Wednesday, 01 January 2020 21:57

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