ISLAMABAD: A three-member Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar on Wednesday set aside Aasiya Bibi’s death sentence in a historic judgement.
In 2010, a Sheikhupura sessions court had sentenced Bibi to death under Section 295-C of PPC for committing blasphemy of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), a verdict that was later upheld by the Lahore High Court (LHC) in 2014.
THE CASE OF THE COMPLAINANT:
The complainant in this case was a local cleric Qari Muhammad Salaam, who on June 19, 2009, lodged an FIR against Aasiya Bibi alleging that she had uttered derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) while plucking purple berry in the field on June 14, 2009.
According to Qari Muhammad Salaam, Asma Bibi and Mafia Bibi had come up to him to complain about the blasphemous remarks uttered by Aasiya Bibi a day after the instance. The delay in registering of the FIR came because Aasiya Bibi was called over at a public gathering, where she confessed to her crime and Qari Salaam wanted to investigate on his part before lodging an FIR.
The prosecution produced seven witnesses including three police witnesses. The FIR was written by an advocate whose name could not be mentioned.
THE CASE OF THE APPELLANT:
The appellant, Aasiya Bibi, in her defense narrated an altercation that took place between her and Asma Bibi and Mafia Bibi in the purple berry fields. “The ladies Mafia Bibi and Asma Bibi quarreled with me over fetching water which was offered by me to bring for them, but they refused saying that since I am a Christian, they will never take water from my hand,” she wrote in her statement.
This led to a heated exchange and only then Qari Muhammad Salmaan was involved in the affair. According to Bibi, a ‘false, fabricated and fictitious case’ was made against her. She reiterated that she has utmost respect for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and can take oath over a Bible that she never passed any derogatory remarks against the Prophet or the Holy Quran.
The judgement written by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, with an additional note by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, acquitted Aasiya Bibi of all charges and ordered her immediate release.
The judgement starts off with the Qalma-e-Shahadat which is the ‘essence of Islam and the recitation of which makes us Muslim’. Justice Nisar in the early part of the judgement establishes the importance of the love and respect for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Islam by referring to numerous verses of the Quran and Hadith.
He builds his argument carefully about the history of blasphemy law in the country before making an important statement about mob justice, which has been a violent aftermath of such blasphemy allegations in recent years. “However, 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…,” he wrote in the judgement while referring to the cases of Mashal Khan and Ayub Masih.
Justice Saqib Nisar then goes on to talk about the technicalities of the case. He talks with suspicion about the delay in registering the FIR and how it loses its ‘evidentiary value’ in such circumstances.
However, he noted that the appellant was rightly convicted by the trial court in 2010 because the appellant’s lawyer at that point failed to cross examine the eye witnesses about the ‘most decisive and pivotal aspect of the case’ – blasphemy.
The judge found grave inconsistencies and contradictions among the testimonies of all the witnesses produced during the investigation. For clarity, the judge chalks down a few questions to see how the witness testimonies waver from the original story:
1) Who informed the complainant about the occurrence of such?
2) Who was present at the time of disclosure regarding the allegation made against the appellant?
3) How many people were present at the time of the public gathering?
4) Where did the public gathering take place?
5) What was the distance between the place of the public gathering and the house of the appellant?
6) How and who brought the appellant to the public gathering?
Over the next few paragraphs, the judge notes how the witnesses contradicted their own statement and how these were inconsistent with respect to other witnesses for the questions listed above.
To mention one of these inconsistencies, all the witnesses state varying number of people who gathered in the public gathering. The range goes from a 100 to 2000 people.
“All these contradictions are sufficient to cast a shadow of doubt on the prosecution’s version of facts, which itself entitles the appellant to the right of benefit of the doubt,” the judge writes in his closing remarks.
Moreover, the chief justice dismissed the alleged extra-judicial confession and wrote that it has no evidentiary value since it contradicts with the Article 37 of the Qanoon-e-Shahadat Ordinance.
He also wrote that the amount of witnesses the prosecution dropped from the testimonies and the delay in the FIR badly dented the prosecution’s case.
Justice Nisar further reiterated that the onus of the proof is on the prosecution which has fundamental importance in criminal jurisprudence. “Where there is any doubt in the prosecution story, benefit should be given to the accused, which is quite consistent with the safe administration of criminal justice.”