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December 8, 2019

Challenging injustice


December 8, 2019

Junaid Hafeez, a former lecturer from Multan who is under trial for alleged blasphemy after being accused by his students, has been placed by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom on its global database of victims who suffer extreme trauma and death threat in jail. The commission which releases its independent report each year defends the universal right to the freedom of belief. It also prepares lists of victims from around the world. The report notes that Pakistan is one of the only three countries in the world to enforce the death penalty against individuals accused of blasphemy. Currently at least 80 individuals remain imprisoned on blasphemy charges. A vast majority of them are Muslim. However, minorities and those who are less powerful in society are more vulnerable.

Pakistan has over the last three decades seen more violence stemming from such accusations. Junaid Hafeez’s lawyer, Rashed Rahman, was murdered in May 2014. It is often difficult for those accused of blasphemy to find lawyers given the threat their lawyers face. Junaid, a teacher of English literature, has been held in solitary confinement for over six years and proceedings in the case are slow. There is an urgent need to review such cases and the manner in which the law is misused. The country now has a long history of injustice and victimization. In a society where it is so easy to place a person behind bars simply by making an accusation, there is often a temptation to do so. This creates enormous injustice. People have remained behind bars in such cases for up to a decade or more. In many cases their lives are under threat even if they are released. We desperately need to aim for a society in which every individual can obtain justice and live without fear.

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