April 5, 2023
By Ahmed Saeed
A division bench comprising of Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh and Justice Farooq Haider of the Lahore High Court (LHC) heard Junaid Hafeez’s appeal against conviction in a blasphemy case. However out of the two counsels for the defendant, one was declared unprepared by the judge, while the other declared himself unprepared.
Hafeez was sentenced to death under Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) by an additional session judge in Multan in December 2019. A Fullbright scholar he had been serving as visiting faculty at the Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU) in Multan in 2013 when he was accused of posting blasphemous material on social media and on the university’s notice board.
Hafeez was arrested in 2013 and since then he has been in solitary confinement in Multan Jail due to security threats. During the trial, Hafeez’s original lawyer Rashid Rehman was shot dead by unknown assailants while he was in his chamber.
Since the incident, Hafeez’s trial has been conducted from inside the jail and he was represented by prominent Lahore-based human rights lawyer Asad Jamal.
Proceedings fizzle out
But in what seemed to be a bizzare twist of events, instead of the hearing proceeding regularly on Wednesday, the defence counsels both took opposite stances in court leading to confusion and a postponement in the hearing.
From the outset of the hearing, Hafeez’s co-counsel, Saif ul Malook sought an adjournment on the ground that he was ‘not prepared’ and that he wanted to meet his client before starting the arguments. But, Justice Tariq Saleem insisted on starting the proceedings noting that the case would take time to conclude.
At this point, Hafeez’s co-counsel Asad Jamal intervened and told the court that he was prepared to start the proceedings.
Jamal then read the contents of the FIR and apprised the court that the State was the complainant in the case through a low-ranking police official. He added that the police arrested Hafeez after a delay of a month and a half.
Asad Jamal explained to the court that there were many discrepancies in the FIR and that he would like to brief the court on it. The court asked a few questions about the facts of the case which Jamal answered.
Justice Farooq Haider asked about a location-particular document from a case file consisting of hundreds of pages, and it took Jamal some time to try and locate the document from the file. But the judge took it under consideration as the unpreparedness of the lawyer and decided to adjourn the case.
Asad Jamal objected to this and appealed to the bench to allow him to proceed with the arguments as the case was long pending before reaching the high court.
Meanwhile Saif ul Malook – obviously not on the same page as his co-counsel – conceded to the judges’ remarks regarding adjournment and said he needed time to prepare the case. The bench adjourned the case and ordered to fix it again in May for a hearing.
Friction between defendants lawyers
Counsel Asad Jamal was not happy with the conduct of his co-lawyer Saif ul Malook in the court. “Such behaviour will harm our case and our chances of getting relief from the high court will be slim,” Jamal said.
He was also disapproving of the fact that Saif ul Malook had tweeted the date of the hearing on his Twitter account potentially creating a dangerous situation.
“I had no idea he had announced the hearing on social media. It is unfortunate,” he added.
Saif ul Malook could not be contacted for remarks despite several attempts.
Meanwhile, Junaid Hafeez’s father Hafeez ul Naseer had traveled all the way from Rajanpur (over 650 Km) to Lahore to attend the hearing.
Talking to Voicepk.net, he informed, “Junaid is in good health and is doing alright. His spirit is not broken and he is hopeful he will get justice from court.”