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Pakistani Professor Sentenced To Death In Blasphemy Case


FILE: Pakistani Islamists hold a poster displaying the portrait of Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman accused of blasphemy, during a protest against the Supreme Court decision on Bibi's case in Lahore in February.

MULTAN, Pakistan -- A Muslim professor in Pakistan has been sentenced to death after being convicted of blasphemy.

A court in Multan on December 21 found Junaid Hafeez guilty of spreading anti-Islamic ideas.

Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law carries an automatic death penalty for anyone accused of insulting God, Islam, or religious figures.

Defense attorney Shahbaz Gormani said he would appeal the verdict, stating his client had been wrongly convicted.

Hafeez was also fined half a million Pakistani rupees (over $3,200) on December 21.

Police arrested Hafeez in 2013 for allegedly displaying blasphemous content while a visiting professor at Bahauddin Zakariya University in the city of Multan, which is located in central Punjab Province.

Hafeez had been held for six years awaiting trial. He's spent most of that time in solitary confinement.

Amnesty International in September appealed to the Pakistani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the 33-yaer-old Hafeez.

“Junaid’s lengthy trial has gravely affected his mental and physical health, endangered him and his family, and exemplifies the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws,” said Rabia Mehmood, Amnesty International's regional researcher.

While authorities have yet to carry out a death sentence for blasphemy, even the mere accusation can cause riots.

Domestic and international human rights groups say blasphemy allegations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and to settle personal scores.

A Punjab governor was killed by his own guard in 2011 after he defended a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy.

She was acquitted in January after spending eight years on death row in a case that drew international media attention. Faced with death threats from Islamic extremists upon her release, she flew to Canada to join her daughters in May.

With reporting by AP

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