–Chief Justice Khosa inquires what should be fate of those who give false statements as court dismisses review plea in high-profile blasphemy case
–Says false witnesses should be awarded life imprisonment after summary trial
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday dismissed a petition seeking review of its October 31, 2018 verdict of acquitting Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death in a blasphemy case, saying that the petitioner was unable to pinpoint any mistake in the earlier verdict.
A three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Asif Saeed Khosa and comprising Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, heard the petition filed by Qari Muhammad Salaam amid high security in the federal capital.
The petitioner’s counsel, Ghulam Ikram, demanded that a larger bench be made for the review petition, saying it should include Islamic scholars and Ulema. To this, the CJP asked: “How is this a matter of religion?”
Justice Khosa inquired if the verdict was not given on merit, asking the petitioner to pinpoint mistake in the earlier verdict. “The verdict was given on the basis of testimony,” he said.
“Does Islam say that one should be punished even if they are found not guilty?” the CJP questioned.
The lawyer pointed to the verdict mentioning “burden of proof” being on the petitioner, to which, the judge asked: “Do you disagree with this rule?”
The lawyer argued that the verdict did not consider testimonies of some of the witnesses and said that “if [a] testimony isn’t further examined [by the lawyers], it is understood to be true”. To this, the chief justice said that if testimonies of those involved in the case were not judged correctly, the court will review them and if the matter needs to be referred to a larger bench, the decision will be taken.
Addressing the lawyer, the CJP said, “The beauty of a Muslim community is that non-Muslims are taken care of.” He said: “First talk about the merit and tell us where the flaw is; tell us where the testimony was read incorrectly [by the court]. What Islam says about it will be discussed later.”
“Islam says that a testimony should be true even if it incriminates a person’s own loved ones. If we have not read the testimony correctly, we will rectify it immediately,” said the chief justice.
“An FIR [first information report] lodged five days after an incident is suspect,” said Justice Khosa while referring to report lodged in the case and which formed the basis for Aasia’s prosecution. He added that testimonies also differed in their account regarding the size and the place of the crowd which had gathered following the blasphemy accusation.
The lawyer countered that late registration of the FIR does not necessarily mean ill intention.
“Should we then hand an accused punishment on the basis of such testimonies,” questioned the chief justice.
Speaking on the incident that sparked the allegations, the top judge said: “You are saying that Aasia said this [alleged blasphemous words] while addressing 25 people. Was she addressing a jalsa [rally]?”
“In front of the investigative officer, the women said that no dispute had occurred between them,” the chief justice noted. “This case did not have as many honest witnesses as it should have had.”
“The investigative officer says that the female witnesses changed their statements. The testimonies of the investigative officer and the witnesses are different.
“The falsa farm’s owner did not appear in court to record his testimony. According to the law, if the testimony is not recorded under Section 342 of the CrPC [recording a statement by the accused], then it does not have any value.”
Reiterating what Chief Justice Khosa had asked multiple times during the hearing, Justice Isa asked: “Tell us what the flaw in the verdict is.”
“We will not hear the case again,” remarked the CJP. “We are hearing [the petition] for the satisfaction of those who gave fatwas [on the verdict] without reading it.”
In the end, Justice Khosa asked the complainant counsel’s to assist in deciding what should be punishment for those witnesses who made the false statement. The chief justice said that under the law, the false witnesses in such cases should be awarded life imprisonment after a summary trial.
Justice Khosa then announced that “the review petition is dismissed on merit.”
On October 31, 2018, the apex court had acquitted Aasia Bibi, who was facing a death sentence for blasphemy, and ordered to release her from prison immediately. The acquittal had led to countrywide protests by the TLP headed by Khadim Rizvi and other radical Islamist parties.
After three days of the massive demonstrations, the government and Labbaik reached an agreement, with the government vowing not to oppose review plea in the case. Subsequently, a review petition was filed on November 1, 2018, at the Lahore Registry of the apex court, urging the SC to reconsider its decision.
The petitioner had also sought the placement of Aasia’s name on the Exit Control List (ECL) till the judgement is reviewed.
In the petition, it has been argued that the SC’s acquittal of Aasia Bibi did not meet the standards of jurisprudence as well as Islamic provisions and the “normal principle of justice with reference to application in blasphemy laws”.
The blasphemy allegations against Bibi date back to June 2009. She was working in a field when she was asked to fetch water. Muslim women labourers objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl.
A few days later the women went to a local cleric and put forward the blasphemy allegations.