Sunday December 03, 2023

Detailed judgment on appeal of Christian couple

By Amir Riaz
June 27, 2021

LAHOREThe Lahore High Court has issued its detailed judgment on the appeal of a Christian couple, who were acquitted of blasphemy charges, holding that the trial court had decided the case in a slipshod manner and confessional statement was recorded in haste leaving several legal requirements unfilled.

Shafqat Emmanuel, the watchman of a school in Gojra in Toba Tek Singh district and his wife Shagufta Masih were arrested in July 2013 under Section 295-C [use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him)] of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) on the charge of sending blasphemous text messages to the complainants, shopkeeper Malik Mohammad Hussain and Gojra tehsil bar’s former president Anwar Mansoor Goraya.

The additional district and sessions judge in Toba Tek Singh on April 4, 2014 had handed down death sentence and a fine of Rs100,000 each to Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Masih under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

The LHC division bench comprising Justice Shahbaz Ali Rizvi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh heard the appeal on June 3 and set aside the couple’s conviction

through a short order after they spent eight years in jail.

The court ruled that the prosecution had failed to establish the case against the couple beyond doubt.

In its 26-page judgment, the court expressed displeasure over the conduct of trial by the additional sessions judge, ruling that the case was decided in a “slipshod manner”. It overturned the Christian couple’s conviction on the grounds of delay in registration of the FIR, non-fulfilment of legal requirements of confessional statement and non-establishment of motive.

“We are dismayed that the learned additional sessions judge has decided the case in a slipshod manner. We allow this appeal and set aside the impugned judgment dated 4.4.2014. The appellants are acquitted of the charge,” read the judgment.

The court ruled that the incident was reported to the police with inordinate delay. According to the prosecution, complainant Muhammad Hussain received the blasphemous SMS on July 18, 2013 but he lodged the FIR two days later and there was no explanation for the delay, it added.

The court also expressed concern over the procedure adopted by the trial court while recording the confessional statement of accused Shafqat. It said that there was nothing on record to establish that the magistrate had asked Shafqat whether he would consult an advocate before recording the confessional statement.

“The presumption would be that he did not make such an inquiry and violated the fundamental right. In the circumstances, the confessional statement is vitiated,” the order said. It also noted that a confessional statement was recorded in English but Shafqat was semi-illiterate and could not understand English.

The court also said that the magistrate gave 15 to 20 minutes to Shafqat to reconsider his decision to make the confessional statement when the police produced him. However, the record established that he was in custody of the police during the proceedings and even handcuffs on him were not removed.

About the motive of offence, the judgment said that the prosecution claimed that it was a plan to get a visa to Europe.

However, there was not a whit of evidence to substantiate that contention except Shafqat’s statement before investigating the officer which had already been held as inadmissible.

The court said that there was nothing on record to suggest that the couple had applied for a Europe visa, which had been refused. The judgment said: “It does not appeal to reason that a person would not only put his own life and liberty at risk” but his entire community for it.

In the 25-page judgment, authored by Justice Sheikh, the court held: “In the instant case, on reappraisal of evidence, we have come to an ineluctable conclusion that the prosecution has failed to establish the charge against the appellants.”

“Remember when the alleged incident took place, the memories of 2009 happening were still fresh in which 77 houses were burnt and at least seven people were killed when a mob attacked the neighbourhood on a rumour that a copy of the Holy Quran had been desecrated,” the judgment added.

Though it was a well-settled law that the prosecution is not required to establish the motive in every case, the judgment said, if one was alleged, it must be proved and the court might draw an adverse influence if it failed.

The judgment said that the police officer himself admitted that when he reached the Gojra police station, there was a crowd of villagers and the police officials. Many people also gathered during the investigation and raided the appellants’ house.

They were vulnerable and must have felt threatened in this situation, the court noted. The court should determine whether the confession statement was voluntary and if so whether it was true and trustworthy, the judgment pointed out.