Sunday February 05, 2023

‘Lying in Prophet’s (SAW) name blasphemy too’: Witnesses conflicted, says SC

November 01, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday acquitted Aasia Bibi, a Christian lady convicted in 2010 for blasphemy and ordered her immediate release from jail after setting aside her conviction and sentence awarded by courts.

A three-member special bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel announced the reserved judgment in the appeal of Aasia Bibi against her conviction.

The court on October 8 had reserved the judgment with the caution to print and electronic media from refraining to comment or initiate debate on the matter till the announcement of the verdict.

Aasia Bibi, a Christian mother of four, was convicted and awarded death sentence in 2010 under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). The allegations against Aasia Bibi date back to June 2009, when she was working in a field and a row broke out with some Muslim women who alleged that she committed blasphemy.

Aasia Bibi was then convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 2010, despite her advocates maintaining her innocence and insisting the accusers held grudges against her. Later, she filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, challenging the Lahore High Court’s October 2014 verdict upholding a trial court’s November 2010 decision sentencing her to death for committing blasphemy in 2009.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court acquitted Aasia Bibi of the charge by extending benefit of doubt to her and ordered her immediate release from jail after setting aside her conviction and sentence upheld by the courts.

“For the foregoing reasons, this appeal is allowed and the judgments of the high court as well as the trial court are reversed. Consequently, the conviction as also the sentence of death awarded to the appellant is set aside and she is acquitted of the charge,” says the judgment.

The 56-page judgment, authored by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar held that the appellant (Aasia) deserves acquittal on the principle of the benefit of doubt. The court held that it is a well settled principle of law that one who makes an assertion has to prove it.

“Thus, the onus rests on the prosecution to prove guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt throughout the trial," the judgment held, and noted that the presumption of innocence remains throughout the case until such time the prosecution on the evidence satisfies the court beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the offence alleged against him.

The verdict held that the expression ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ is of fundamental importance to the criminal justice. Similarly, the court observed that it is one of the principles which seeks to ensure that no innocent person is convicted.

“Keeping in mind the evidence produced by the prosecution against the alleged blasphemy committed by the appellant, the prosecution has categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt,” the judgment held.

The chief justice quoted a Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)- “Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their freewill; I (Prophet Muhammad PBUH) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment (Abu Dawud).”

The judgment noted that it is the case of appellant that on the fateful day an altercation took place between the appellant and both the eyewitnesses, namely Mafia Bibi (PW.2) and Asma Bibi (PW.3) in the vicinity of the field owned by Muhammad Idrees (CW.1) over the fetching of water which was offered by the appellant.

However, the offer was refused, and it was said that because she is a Christian they would never take water from her hand. Over this, a heated arguments took place with the exchange of some bitter words between them and as a result of this disagreement, those ladies in connivance with the complainant, Qari Muhammad Salaam, ignited the situation and wrongly implicated her (the appellant) in this case.

“Furthermore, the alleged extra judicial confession was not voluntarily but rather resulted out of coercion and undue pressure as the appellant was forcibly brought before the complainant in presence of a gathering, who was threatening to kill her,” says the judgment, adding that as such, it cannot be made the basis of a conviction.

The court noted that there is an inordinate delay of about five days in lodging of the FIR which casts a serious doubt and shadow about probity of the witnesses, and in fact after the deliberation, a false story was concocted by the witnesses and reported to the police.

The court further noted that the FIR was registered with a delay of five days as the incident took place on June 14, 2009 but it was reported to the police on June 19, 2009.

The judgment recalled that it has been held by this court that an FIR is always treated as a cornerstone of the prosecution case to establish guilt against those involved in a crime; thus it has a significant role to play.

“If there is any delay in lodging of a FIR and commencement of investigation, it gives rise to a doubt, which of course, cannot be extended to anyone else except to the accused,” the verdict held, adding that the FIR lodged after conducting an inquiry loses its evidentiary value.

Even, otherwise, the complaint submitted to the police was drafted by an advocate. The appellant, in her statement recorded under Section 342 CrPC, expressed her full respect to the Holy Prophet (Peace be Upon Him) and the Holy Quran and she offered to take an oath on Bible to the investigation officer to prove her innocence which was refused by the investigation officer, says the judgment.

“Therefore, the appellant being innocent deserves acquittal,” says the judgment, adding that further, no prior permission of the central, provincial government was obtained before the registration of the FIR.

It is pertinent to mention here that counsel for the petitioner during the arguments had submitted before the court that there are also contradictions regarding how the notice of the incident was taken and the complainant has said the decision to register an FIR against Bibi was taken amid a group of people.

The learned counsel had further contended that for lodging the FIR, permission was not sought from the district coordination officer (DCO) or the district police officer (DPO), adding that the complainant in the FIR had claimed that no villager resorted to beat the accused (Aasia).

In his separate opinion, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa observed that blasphemy is a serious offence, but the insult of the appellant’s religion and religious sensibilities by the complainant party and then mixing truth with falsehood in the name of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) was also not short of being blasphemous.

Justice Khsoa observed that it is ironical that in the Arabic language the appellant’s name Aasia means sinful, but in the circumstances of the present case, she appears to be a person, in the words of Shakespeare’s King Lear, ‘more sinned against than sinning’.

“For what has been discussed above, a conclusion is inescapable and irresistible that the prosecution had failed to prove its case against the appellant beyond reasonable doubt. This appeal is therefore, allowed, the conviction and sentence of the appellant recorded and upheld by the courts are set aside and she is acquitted of the charge by extending the benefit of doubt to her,” Justice Khosa concluded, adding that she shall be released from the jail forthwith if not required to be detained in connection with any other case.