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Pakistan Urged To Release 'Prisoner Of Conscience' Charged With Blasphemy

FILE: The Supreme Court building in Islamabad.
FILE: The Supreme Court building in Islamabad.

Amnesty International has urged Pakistani authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” release a university lecturer who has been charged with blasphemy over Facebook uploads.

Junaid Hafeez’s case is “a travesty,” Rabia Mehmood, researcher at the London-based group, said in a statement on September 25.

Calling Hafeez "a prisoner of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression," Mehmood called for all charges against him to be dropped.

Hafeez, a 33-year-old lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University in the city of Multan, has been in solitary confinement since June 2014, according to Amnesty International.

His case is now with the eighth judge since his trial began, and his counsel was gunned down in May 2014 after receiving threats for defending Hafeez.

Authorities “must guarantee his safety and that of his family and legal representatives. Their failure to do so in the past has already borne the worst consequences,” said Mehmood.

His lengthy trial “has gravely affected his mental and physical health, endangered him and his family, and exemplifies the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws,” she added.

Amnesty International urged Pakistan to repeal these laws, describing them as “overly broad, vague and coercive.”

“They have been used to target religious minorities, pursue personal vendettas, and carry out vigilante violence,” the statement said, citing the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, was acquitted in 2018, and was only able to depart Pakistan for Canada in May this year after being kept in protective custody out of security concerns.

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