A District and Sessions Court in Multan on Saturday sentenced to death blasphemy accused Junaid Hafeez, who has been detained in solitary confinement for nearly seven years since being arrested on March 13, 2013.
Earlier this week, Additional Sessions Judge Kashif Qayyum had reserved his judgment in the long-pending case upon the completion of arguments by the defense and prosecution, raising the hopes of well-wishers globally that Hafeez’s ordeal might finally be over. Saturday’s verdict has dashed their expectations, and left Hafeez, his family, and his defenders in despair.
In its verdict, the court sentenced Hafeez to 10 years rigorous punishment and a fine of Rs. 100,000, failure to pay which would extend his imprisonment by six months. The sentence was rendered under Article 295 (A) of the Pakistan Penal Code, which covers “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Under Article 295 (B), which covers “defiling, etc., of Holy Quran,” Hafeez has been sentenced to life imprisonment. Under Article 295 (C), which penalizes “use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet (PBUH),” the court sentenced Hafeez to death and a fine of Rs. 500,000, failure to pay which would extend his imprisonment by six months. “He shall be hanged by neck till his death subject to its confirmation by the Honorable High Court,” it adds.
The sentence is particularly difficult to accept for Hafeezul Naseer, Junaid’s father, whose battle to secure his eldest son’s freedom from the Central Jail in Multan has left him nearly destitute and shunned by friends and family. “My business has been shut down, and our family has been socially isolated,” he tells Newsweek, adding that his 32-year-old son’s health has also deteriorated, leaving him a shell of the man he once was.
In a statement, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said it was “dismayed” by the verdict. “HRCP believes that the blasphemy laws are heavily misused,” it said. “This is compounded by a trial process ridden by delays and pressures at the level of the lower judiciary.” Noting that most blasphemy verdicts are overturned by higher courts, the HRCP said there was great pressure on lower courts to deliver harsh sentences to deter vigilantes. “In five years, at least eight judges have heard Hafeez’s case, making a fair trial virtually impossible,” it said, adding it had faith that the higher judiciary would overturn the sentence in appeal.