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Junaid Hafeez is a former Visiting Lecturer of English accused of blasphemy under Pakistan's broad blasphemy laws which can carry with it a sentence of death. His case received international attention for its seemingly tyrannical nature and opposition to free speech or fair trial.
Background and arrest
Hafeez was born in Rajanpur and attended King Edward Medical College in Lahore, Pakistan after being given a gold medal in pre-medical studies at the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education in the Dera Ghazi Khan division. In 2006 he left his medical studies to focus on English Literature at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan. In 2009, as a Fulbright scholar, he travelled to Jackson, Mississippi to continue his studies at Jackson State University where he majored in American literature, photography and theater. He returned to BZU Multan in 2011 as a graduate student and a visiting lecturer for the English Department while also teaching at the College of Design.
Soon after his arrival he faced broad disapproval from the Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islaami and its fellow group Tehrik-tahafaaz-e-Namoos-e-risalat. On March 13, 2013 a group of students started distributing pamphlet calling arrest of Junaid Hafeez. They soon staged a strike involving about some 1500 students from English and different other departments and Hafeez was expelled from the university and his contract was rescinded.
Prosecution and imprisonment
Hafeez was soon arrested and held at Sahiwal Jail on the charge of violating section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code which held that if you in any way "defile" the name of Muhammad you "shall be punished with death".
He was accused of using the account Mulla Munnafiq to comment about Muhammad's wives in the closed group "So-Called Liberals of Pakistan." The police claim to have gathered 1200 pages of material that incriminates him from his computer as well as a book called "Progressive Muslims" that he had received.
Hafeez has faced a hard time finding a lawyer to defend him as the public in Pakistan views negatively anyone who defends someone accused of blasphemy. His original lawyer Mudassar left the case in June 2013 after facing a multitude of death threats.
Rashid Rehman then took on the case. Facing a multitude of death threats himself, Rehman commented to BBC that it was like "walking into the jaws of death" to defend someone accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. A hearing for Hafeez was held on April 3, 2014 at Multan Central Jail and Rehman was told that he would not live to attend the next hearing by the prosecuting attorneys. Despite these threats being made in front of the presiding Judge no charges were brought against them. On May 7, two men walked into Rehman's office in Multan and shot him to death before leaving the scene. The crime remains unsolved as of November 15, 2014.
Hafeez is represented by Shahbaz Gurmani as of December 2014; Gurmani has also received death threats including an incident where guns were fired outside of his home. Shahbaz Ali Khan Gurmani known as Shahbaz Gurmani is also the lawyer of other blasphemy accused persons. He is working on the Plat form of New Vision Foundation, Multan for the protection of Human Rights.
- Sethi, Ali (20 May 2014). "Pakistan's Tyranny of Blasphemy". NY Times. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
- Cristo, Carmen (25 June 2014). "Jackson Rallies to Save Junaid Hafeez". Jackson Free Press. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
- "Pak lawyer defending blasphemy accused receives 'beheading threat' letter from IS". Deccan Chronicles. 5 December 2014. Retrieved 20 December 2014.