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December 1, 2019

Multan lecturer on global religious freedom victims list

Top Story

December 1, 2019

WASHINGTON: The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has placed Junaid Hafeez, a former lecturer from Multan under trial for alleged blasphemy, on its global victims’ database highlighting extreme trauma and death threats to his life in jail.

The Commission is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.

The Commission reviews facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations and makes policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state, and Congress.

It also prepares a list of victims from all over the world who have been victimized on religious grounds.

In its updated list of victims, the Commission has included the Pakistani teacher's name detailing that his case has continued for over six years, while Hafeez "languishes in solitary confinement." The Commission further said that the "lengthy trial is now on its eighth judge and the prosecution has repeatedly failed to produce evidence of the alleged blasphemy."

"Mr Hafeez has experienced extreme trauma to his mental and physical health, in part fueled by death threats against himself, his family, and his lawyers; his previous defense counsel was murdered in May 2014," the Commission says.

Earlier, the Commission also released a policy report on Pakistan in which it hailed Aasia Bibi's acquittal.

According to the report, nearly 80 individuals in Pakistan remain imprisoned on blasphemy charges.

"Many of these individuals face death sentence, though none have yet been legally executed by the government for blasphemy," it said, adding that Pakistan was one of the only three countries in the world that enforce death penalty against accused individuals.

It further said "mere accusation of blasphemy is often all that is needed to spark disruptive public reactions, including rioting and mob violence, with the UN Committee against Torture reporting that Pakistani authorities have made “inadequate efforts” to protect vulnerable individuals."

The report had concluded that while the Pakistani Supreme Court and other officials have recognized the growing problem of false blasphemy accusations being used to target religious minorities, political leaders — under pressure from certain religious group — have made no serious steps to repeal the blasphemy law.

In its 2019 Annual Report, the USCIRF provided a number of recommendations for improving the situation of Pakistan’s religious minorities.

The recommendations relating to the blasphemy law include urging the Pakistani government to take action like releasing blasphemy prisoners and other individuals imprisoned for their religion or belief.

It also recommended that the US government should negotiate a binding agreement, as authorized under the International Religious Freedom Act, with the Pakistani government to improve religious freedom conditions in the country.