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Pakistani court sentences professor to death for blasphemy

Pakistani court sentences professor to death for blasphemy
An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has sentenced a university professsor to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammed. The trial has already seen his defense lawyer shot dead, under the Muslim world’s harshest blasphemy regime.

Thirty-three-year-old Junaid Hafeez was arrested in 2013 and charged with making derogatory remarks about the Islamic Prophet Muhammed on social media. Under the country’s harsh blasphemy law, he was sentenced on Saturday to death by hanging.

His lawyers claim he was framed by Islamic extremists for his liberal views, and said they plan to appeal the verdict. “There can't be a fair trial in blasphemy cases in Pakistan,” defense lawyer Asad Jamal told Reuters. "We have a spineless system. No one can stand up to a blasphemy charge.”

Also on rt.com Blasphemy charge against local vet triggers violent anti-Hindu riot in Pakistan (PHOTOS)

Pakistan has the strictest blasphemy laws in any Muslim-majority country. Though nobody has been actually executed under these laws, more than 75 of those accused have been killed extrajudicially, according to the Centre for Social Justice.

Critics say blasphemy charges are used to settle personal scores, and allow the country’s Muslim majority to persecute religious minorities. While a 2014 poll showed that a majority of Pakistanis want blasphemy legislation repealed, religious hardliners often turn up in droves to punish offenders and their supporters extrajudicially.

Hafeez’s previous defense lawyer was gunned down in his office in 2014. Rashid Rehman was the first lawyer in a year to take up the case, for fear of mob violence, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan told AFP at the time.

More recently, the acquittal last year of a Christian woman facing execution for blasphemy triggered nationwide protests, with one hardline Islamist party calling for the death of the judges who freed her. Earlier this year, a blasphemy charge against a Hindu veterinarian in Pakistan’s Sindh province caused an anti-Hindu riot, with multiple Hindu businesses set on fire before police intervened.

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