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GENEVA (27 December 2019) – UN human rights experts* have condemned the death sentence handed down by a court in Pakistan to university lecturer Junaid Hafeez, who had been charged with blasphemy.
The sentence came despite a landmark Supreme Court ruling in last year’s Asia Bibi blasphemy trial, and an urgent appeal by UN experts to the Government, raising concerns about the legal merits of the case.
“The Supreme Court ruling in the Asia Bibi case should have set a precedent for lower courts to dismiss any blasphemy case that has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt,” the experts said.
“In the light of this ruling, the guilty verdict against Mr. Hafeez is a travesty of justice, and we condemn the death sentence imposed on him. We urge Pakistan’s superior courts to promptly hear his appeal, overturn the death sentence and acquit him.”
International law permits the death penalty only in exceptional circumstances, and requires incontrovertible evidence of intentional murder, the experts noted.
“The death sentence imposed on Mr. Hafeez has no basis in either law or evidence, and therefore contravenes international law. Carrying out the sentence would amount to an arbitrary killing,” they said.
“We are seriously concerned that blasphemy charges are still being brought against people legitimately exercising their rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression,” they added.
Mr. Hafeez, a 33-year-old lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan, was arrested on 13 March 2013 and charged under sections 295-B and -C of the Pakistan Penal Code for allegedly making blasphemous remarks during lectures and on his Facebook account. He has been in solitary confinement since his trial started in 2014, seriously affecting his mental and physical health. The death sentence was imposed by a district and sessions court in Multan on 21 December 2019.
“Prolonged solitary confinement may well amount to torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” the experts said.
“Mr. Hafeez’s case has gone through lengthy trials in Multan, with the prosecution failing to provide convincing evidence of his guilt. We also note that some documentary evidence submitted to the court was never subjected to independent forensic review despite allegations it had been fabricated, and that a lawyer representing Mr. Hafeez in 2014, Rashid Rehman, was murdered and the killers have not been brought to justice.
“There seems to be a climate of fear among members of the judiciary handling this case, which may explain why at least seven judges were transferred during this lengthy trial.”
*The UN experts: Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Ms Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Members of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention– Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Chair), Ms. Leigh Toomey (Vice-Chair on Communications), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair on Follow-up), Mr. Seong-Phil Hong and Mr. Sètondji Adjovi.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of as the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the United Nations Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.
UN Human Rights, country page – Pakistan