–Court notes it’s not for individuals or mobs to decide if any act falls under Section-295-C
–Justice Khosa says mixing truth with falsehood in name of Holy Prophet (PBUH) not short of blasphemy
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday acquitted Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman condemned to death on blasphemy charges after accepting her 2015 appeal against her sentence.
Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, heading the three-member bench comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, read the 56-page verdict and announced the Lahore High Court (LHC) verdict was set aside and directed authorities to release Aasia Bibi from prison.
“The appeal is allowed. She has been acquitted. The judgement of the high court, as well as the trial court, is reversed. Her conviction is set aside,” Justice Khosa added a separate opinion in the verdict.
The apex court added that Aasia is to be set free if she is not wanted in any other case.
The 56-page detailed judgement has been authored by CJP Nisar, with a separate concurrent opinion note from Justice Khosa.
“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,” noted the top judge in the order. “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 expression ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ is of fundamental importance to the criminal justice: 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,” concluded the chief justice.
Further, Justice Khosa “because of some important legal and factual issues involved in the case” decided to record his separate concurring opinion which stated that the prosecution had failed to prove its case against Aasia Bibi beyond a reasonable doubt.
Justice Khosa’s opinion added, “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 Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was also not short of being blasphemous.”
“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,” Justice Khosa’s opinion read.
The court also noted that “it is not for the individuals, or a gathering (mob), to decide as to whether any act falling within the purview of Section 295-C has been committed or not, because as stated earlier, it is the mandate of the court to make such decision after conducting a fully qualified trial and on the basis of credible evidence brought before it”.
The CJP ended the judgement with a hadith of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) on the rights of minorities.
Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Mulook told AFP: “The verdict has shown that the poor, the minorities and the lowest segments of society can get justice in this country despite its shortcomings. This is the biggest and happiest day of my life.”
Bibi appeared to be in a state of disbelief after hearing the decision from her lawyer.
“I can’t believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?” Bibi told AFP by phone from prison after the ruling. “I just don’t know what to say, I am very happy, I can’t believe it.”
Bibi’s husband also hailed the verdict. “I am very happy. My children are very happy. We are grateful to God. We are grateful to the judges for giving us justice. We knew that she is innocent,” said Ashiq Masih.
Shortly after the ruling, hundreds blocked a key road linking Rawalpindi with Islamabad. People are also gathering for protests in Karachi and Peshawar. Similar rallies are being held elsewhere as police urge demonstrators to disperse peacefully.
The top court had reserved verdict on the accused plea against the conviction on October 8. The federal police had deployed a heavy contingent of police officials and secured entry points of the red zone with containers.
The 51-year-old Christian woman was on the death row since November 2010 after she was convicted on charges of committing blasphemy during an argument with two Muslim women in Sheikhupura.
Her case gained prominence after then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer pleaded for a retrial of her case and was subsequently shot dead by one of his guards, Mumtaz Qadri, in January 2011.
Bibi challenged the verdict in October 2014, however, the LHC upheld the death sentence. The apex court had stayed the execution in July 2015.
After a three-year hiatus, a three-judge special bench, headed by Mian Saqib Nisar, and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel, heard the appeal.
The hearing lasted nearly two hours and 45 minutes, during which both the prosecution and defence presented their points of view over the conviction.
Members of civil society, including veteran politician Farhatullah Babar, were in attendance during the proceeding. Unlike previous hearings, a few religious clerics were present inside and outside the courtroom.
The bench restrained the media from discussing, publishing or airing any comment about the proceedings till the announcement of the judgment. During the hearing, the bench pointed out several discrepancies in the statements of the prosecution and the witnesses.
On the day the court reserved its judgment, Saiful Malook, counsel for Aasia Bibi, had argued that the appellant had not committed blasphemy and was being “persecuted due to her religious beliefs”.
Representing the complainant before the bench, Advocate Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry had contended that nothing could be cited in the investigation and cross-examination before a court of law, which was a denial of occurrence of a blasphemous act.