Pakistani academician sentenced to death for blasphemy

A court in Pakistan has convicted a university lecturer of blasphemy and sentenced him to death in a case rights groups have long cited as emblematic of fair trial concerns in such prosecutions in the country.

Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer at the Bahauddin Zakariya University in the central Pakistani city of Multan, was accused of having insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and its holy book, the Quran, verbally and on Facebook in 2013.

A court in Multan found him guilty and sentenced him to death on Saturday after a lengthy trial that saw frequent delays and transfers of judges.

Hafeez has been held in solitary confinement due to security concerns since 2014 when his lawyer, prominent rights activist Rashid Rehman, was murdered.

The attack came after Rehman had been threatened in open court by religious leaders and lawyers associated with the prosecution.

The trial has been held in a high-security jail since then.

Hafeez’s current lawyer, speaking on condition of anonymity due to security concerns, described the atmosphere in court hearings as “intimidating” before adding that the professor would be appealing the verdict at the Lahore High Court.

“The failure to apprehend those who shot Rehman dead signaled impunity for other would-be vigilantes,” Hafeez’s lawyer and family said in a statement released after Saturday’s verdict.

“Could any judge in such circumstances take the risk of doing justice? Those who could [be] were transferred from the district or brought under pressure by groups of lawyers operating as mafias.”

Zia-ur-Rehman, the prosecutor in the case, denied allegations that the prosecution attempted to delay the case or intimidate the judge.

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