Tuesday May 28, 2024

SHC sets aside conviction of school owner in blasphemy case

By Jamal Khurshid
March 02, 2024
The Sindh High Court building in Karachi. — APP File
The Sindh High Court building in Karachi. — APP File

The Sindh High Court has set aside the conviction of a man in a blasphemy case as the prosecution failed to prove charges against him.

Notan Lal was sentenced to life imprisonment by the additional district and sessions court of Sukkur for making some blasphemous remarks and inciting religious hatred inside a classroom at the Sindh Public School Ghotki.

According to the prosecution, complainant Abdul Aziz lodged an FIR on September 14, 2019 that his son Mohammad Ibtisam, a student of school, told him that the owner of the school, Notan Lal, entered the classroom in the course of a lecture and in their presence made sacrilegious remarks.

The appellant’s counsel submitted that the appellant has been falsely implicated in the case as he has not committed the alleged offence. He submitted that the story has been contrived by the complainant to take revenge form him for not giving him a job in the school and demanding the outstanding fee of his son from him.

The counsel submitted that complainant was encouraged and exploited by local orthodox clerics in registering the case against the appellant, who is a non-Muslim.

He submitted that no proper investigation was conducted in the case and the relevant SSP, the IO, simply in one day wound up the entire investigation by sitting in the office of the DSP Ghotki. The counsel said that there were material contradictions in the evidence of witnesses and there was an unexplained delay of 15 days in recording statements of witnesses under Section 161 of the CrPC.

The additional prosecutor general and the complainant’s counsel supported the trial court order and submitted that there were sufficient evidence against the appellant to uphold the conviction against him.

A single bench at Sukkur, headed by Justice Mohammad Iqbal Kalhoro, after hearing the arguments of the counsel, observed that except Mohammad Sharif and Gurdas Mul, who was taking the class when appellant allegedly intervened and passed derogatory remarks, were produced as witnesses, and none else from among 11 for the reasons not revealed by the prosecution was examined as a witness in the trial.

The court observed that the FIR was registered against the appellant missing the name of the relevant witnesses and any precise specification about actual profane words allegedly spoken by the appellant. It further said there was an unauthorized intrusion in investigation by a sub-inspector of police despite due knowledge that such an offence can only be investigated by the SSP-rank officer in terms of Section 156-A of the CrPC.

The court pointed out that the investigation was conducted 15 days late by the SSP and his half-hearted style wrapped up the investigating in just a day, besides there was convincing evidence alluding to the fact of the investigation having been actually conducted by one DSP namely Pir Bux, who has singed all the relevant memos, in violation of the above provision of law.

The court observed that there were anomalies, contradictions and discrepancies between the evidence of eyewitnesses over the number of and precision of sacrilegious words allegedly used by the appellant on the fateful day.

It observed that inconsistencies and incongruities in the statements under Section 161 of CrPC of the witnesses and their evidence in describing the actual profane words uttered by the appellant and the context he used them in, examining only a particular set of the witnesses imputing the appellant and suppressing the evidence of those who had a different story of the incident to tell, the prosecution cannot be said to have established the charge against the appellant beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court observed that it is a cardinal principle of law that when the prosecution fails to establish the case against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt and there are facts and circumstances leading to an inference other than guilt of the accused, its benefit has to go to him not as a matter of grace but as his right.

It set aside the conviction of the appellant giving him the benefit of doubt and ordered releasing him if not required in other cases.