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Pakistan blasphemy death sentence for lecturer is 'travesty of justice': UN experts

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ANI Asia
The United Nations human rights experts on Thursday condemned the death sentence handed to lecturer Junaid Hafeez by a Pakistan court and called the ruling a "travesty of justice"
Asserting that international law permits the death penalty only in exceptional circumstances, the experts urged Pakistan's superior courts to "overturn the death sentence and acquit" Hafeez.
Hafeez, a 33-year-old lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan, was arrested in March 2013 for allegedly making blasphemous remarks during lectures and on his Facebook account.
He has been in solitary confinement since his trial started in 2014. The death sentence was imposed by a district and sessions court in Multan on December 19.
In a statement, the eight human rights experts cited the Supreme Court ruling in the Asia Bibi case to assert that the verdict in Hafeez case is wrong.
"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 a reasonable doubt," the experts said.
"In the light of this ruling, the guilty verdict against 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 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.
On October 31, 2018, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy, was acquitted by Pakistan's Supreme Court. She has been released from jail and relocated to Canada in May.
The experts also pointed out that solitary confinement o seriously affecting his mental and physical health has seriously affected his mental and physical health
The experts said, "Prolonged solitary confinement may well amount to torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," the experts said.
"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 Hafeez in 2014, Rashid Rehman, was murdered and the killers have not been brought to justice.
The experts who condemned the Multan court ruling are: Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; 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- Jose Antonio Guevara Bermudez (Chair), Leigh Toomey (Vice-Chair on Communications), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair on Follow-up), Seong-Phil Hong and Setondji Adjovi.

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First Published: Dec 27 2019 | 8:01 PM IST

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