See More on Facebook

Analysis, Current affairs

Pakistan upholds Aasia Bibi’s acquittal

Aasia Bibi’s final legal hurdle comes to an end as SC upholds her acquittal.


Written by

Updated: January 30, 2019

The Supreme Court on Tuesday — amid tight security in the capital — dismissed a petition seeking review of the top court’s October 31, 2018 verdict of acquitting Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent eight years wrongfully accused on death row in a blasphemy case.

“On merit, this petition is dismissed,” said Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, ending Aasia Bibi’s final legal hurdle. The petitioner had failed to point out any mistake in the original judgment.

After her release from Multan’s women prison on November 7 last year, Aasia Bibi was flown to Islamabad onboard a special aircraft. She was then taken to an undisclosed place amid tight security. Authorities have remained tight-lipped about her movement and whereabouts for security reasons.

“I am really gratefully to everybody, now after nine years it is confirmed that I am free and I will be going to hug my daughters,” a friend quoted Bibi as saying. The friend spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity fearing for his own safety.

As the hearing started at 1pm, petitioner Qari Muhammad Salaam’s lawyer Ghulam Ikram presented his arguments before a three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Khosa and comprising Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel. The lawyer had demanded that a larger bench be made for the review petition, saying it should include Islamic scholars and ulama.

“How is this a matter of religion?” asked the CJP. “Has the verdict not been given on merit?”

“The verdict was given on the basis of testimonies; does Islam say that one should be punished even if they are found not guilty?

“Prove to us what [you believe] is wrong with the verdict,” said Chief Justice Khosa.

When the lawyer pointed to the verdict mentioning “burden of proof” being on the petitioner, the judge asked: “Do you disagree with this rule?”

“The verdict did not take into account some views [of the witnesses’ testimonies],” argued the lawyer. “If a testimony isn’t further examined [by the lawyers], it is understood to be true.”

“You should talk on the merits [of the verdict],” the top judge remarked.

“The beauty of a Muslim community is that non-muslims are taken care of,” said the CJP, addressing the lawyer. “First talk about the merit and tell us where the flaw is.

“First tell us where the testimony was read incorrectly [by the court]. What Islam says about it will be discussed later.

“Islam says that the person testifying should be truthful, even if speaking the truth means implicating your loved ones. If we have not read the testimony correctly, we will rectify it immediately,” said the chief justice.

‘False testimonies’

The allegations against Aasia Bibi were made in June 2009 when she was labouring in a field and a row broke out with some Muslim women she was working with.

She was asked to fetch water, but the Muslim women 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.

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 investigation officer, the women said that no dispute had occurred between them,” Chief Justice noted. “This case did not have as many honest witnesses as it should have had.”

“The investigation officer says that the female witnesses changed their statements. The testimonies of the investigation 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 a testimony is not recorded under Section 342 of the CrPC [recording a statement by the accused], then it does not have any value.

“The farm’s owner only came forward after the police started the investigation, 20 days after [it started]. His testimony holds no legal value.

“The delay of an hour is enough to create suspicion.”

The lawyer maintained that the petitioners did not add Aasia [to the case] due to any ill intention.

The CJP questioned the five-day delay in registering of the FIR regarding the incident, also pointing out that the testimonies differed over the size and the place of the crowd which had gathered following the accusations against Aasia Bibi.

“Qari sahib says a crowd had gathered and then the FIR was registered. The testimonies of the villagers do not mention a crowd gathering. A lot of lies were told about a crowd having gathered.

“Had this been a normal case, we would have registered cases against the witnesses; we have shown a lot of patience.”

At this, the lawyer admitted that there was “some difference” in the testimonies. “Difference? These are lies,” replied the chief justice.

“Is this the picture of Islam that he [Qari sahib] wants to present? Are these the kind of witnesses [that should be presented in a case]?”

“There is a clear difference between the testimonies of all the witnesses, and yet you block all of Pakistan questioning why you did not get your way,” the CJP reprimanded the lawyer.

“You blame us and say what kind of people are we [for acquitting Aasia] … look at yourself, what kind of accusation have you made.

“We took into account the sensitivity of the case, otherwise we would have put the witnesses in jail for their false testimonies.

“Are we liable to be murdered now that we have executed justice? Is this Islam?

“If a judge says a testimony can’t be trusted, that judge’s verdict is not acceptable to you — because it is not in your favour?”

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.”

Tight security

A day earlier on Monday, the capital administration made stringent security arrangements, including the deployment of paramilitary troops in Islamabad’s sensitive areas.

In a letter written to the capital chief commissioner’s office, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the Islamabad district magistrate sought the deployment of Pakistan Rangers personnel in the city “to avoid any untoward incident” during the hearing of a “sensitive case” on January 29.

The magistrate suggested that the Rangers authorities be approached with the request to deploy quick response forces (QRFs) of the paramilitary force in aid of the civil administration to bolster the capital’s security.

Review petition

The review petition filed by Qari Muhammad Salaam had pleaded the apex court to maintain the capital punishment awarded by the trial court to Aasia Bibi.

Qari Salaam is a prayer leader of a mosque who lives in a village in Nankana Sahib tehsil and had lodged the FIR about the alleged blasphemy incident.

On Oct 31 last year, a three-judge SC bench had reversed the judgements of the Lahore High Court (LHC) and the trial court thus setting aside the conviction and death sentence awarded to Aasia Bibi, who had been accused of committing blasphemy during an argument with a Muslim women in Sheikhupura in June 2009.

“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 then chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar had written in the detailed judgment.

Editorial: A grave injustice avoided

Justice Khosa, in his note, had said: “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.”

Aasia Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, who had received death threats and fled the country after his client’s acquittal, returned to Islamabad to attend Tuesday’s hearing.

The petitioners “have no case against my client, I am sure of that”, Malook told The Associated Press on Monday. He said he has asked authorities to provide him with personal security.

TLP threatens protests

Meanwhile, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which had led three-day-long mass protests against Bibi’s acquittal in November, on Monday night rejected the SC bench formed to hear the review petition and threatened a protest movement if Bibi is given “judicial relief”.

Most of the top TLP leadership, including its chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi, is presently imprisoned in the wake of a massive crackdown launched by law enforcement agencies against the religiopolitical group.

Read: What you need to know about Aasia Bibi’s trial

In a video message, TLP’s central acting emir Shafiq Amini had claimed that the government had promised them that a larger bench including Sharia court judges would be formed to hear the review petition against Bibi’s acquittal. He demanded that a larger bench be formed after dissolving the current bench.

Asking TLP workers to “be prepared”, Amini said: “No one should expect a compromise from our end”.

The TLP had called off its protests last year after reaching an agreement with the government — the foremost condition of which was the placement of Bibi’s name on the Exit Control List. The government, however, had only agreed to “initiate the legal process” to place her name on the list, while also agreeing that it would not oppose any review petitions being filed against the SC judgement.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Dawn
About the Author: Dawn is Pakistan's oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Current affairs

Easter carnage could have been averted Cardinal tells army chief

Cardinal says he could’ve acted on advance warning to prevent deadly attacks. Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith yesterday told Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake that he would have had definitely called off Easter Sunday morning mass countrywide had he been informed of intelligence warning as regards possible attacks. Cardinal Ranjith sought a clarification as to whether the Church had been deliberately deprived of timely information when Lt. Gen. Senanayake met him at the Bishop’s House, Borella in the morning. A visibly disappointed Catholic leader asserted that Easter Sunday tragedy could have been averted. The Island had the opportunity to be present at the Bishop’s House meeting where Cardinal Ranjith strongly emphasized the responsibility on the part of the government to caution the public regarding possible threats. The meeting took place immediately after the


By The Island
April 24, 2019

Analysis, Current affairs

Earthquake kills 8 in Philippines

The earthquake struck the central island of Luzon Monday afternoon. Rescuers dug into rubble to reach people trapped in a supermarket that collapsed in Porac town, Pampanga province, after a 6.1-magnitude earthquake shook Luzon on Monday afternoon. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported that it was verifying reports that five people were killed in the earthquake. Three bodies were reportedly pulled out of the collapsed supermarket, but the NDRRMC said that report was “for validation.” Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda reported that eight people died, including an elderly woman and her grandchild who were killed when part of a wall beside their house fell on them in Barangay Santa Cruz, Lubao town, as the earth shook. The powerful earthquake struck at 5:11 p.m. rocking Luzon, including Metropolitan Manila, and sending thousands of people fleeing high-rise


By Philippine Daily Inquirer
April 23, 2019

Analysis, Current affairs

Asian press freedom under threat

Some common themes and little optimism as press freedom takes a back seat in Asia. The media advocacy group, Reporters without Borders—also known by its international name Reporters Sans Frontières, or RSF—released its 2019 World Press Freedom Index on Thursday. The report tells a bleak story of the future of news ecosystems around the world, and warns of increasing danger for the men and women who have made reporting the news their jobs. The index’s assessment of Asia-Pacific’s press freedom describes an atmosphere of increasing cyber harassment, physical danger and intimidation for reporters—factors that unsurprisingly have led to growing levels self-censorship across the region. A look at a the state of press freedom in a few countries around the region reveals some recurring patterns: Legal systems have been increasingly wielded as weapons by governments to silence media outlets and indiv


By Quinn Libson
April 21, 2019

Analysis, Current affairs

UPDATE: Over 200 dead in coordinated Sri Lanka attacks

The attacks seem to target Christian churches and popular luxury hotels. At least 200 people are dead and hundreds injured in coordinated bomb attacks across Sri Lanka. The attacks seem to target Christian churches on their Easter Sunday services as well as major hotels in the capital, Colombo. Authorities said that some of the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers. According to the Statesman newspaper, the churches that were attacked include St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade in Colombo, the St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya in Katana and a third in Batticaloa. Sri Lankan press say that the military has been called in to guard the churches and the hotels. The government has also called for a nighttime curfew and blocked access to social media on a temporary basis. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena called for calm in a statement issued by his office. Finance


By Cod Satrusayang
April 21, 2019

Analysis, Current affairs

Tokyo Olympic committee announces detailed schedule for 2020 Games

Tokyo will welcome positive news after earlier scandals surrounding the Olympic committee. The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has announced a detailed schedule for all competitions of the 2020 Games, which will start on July 24, 2020. Finals for around 20 events will be held on many days, and finals for 30 events, including baseball, will be held on Aug. 8, which will be the largest number in a single day during the Olympics period. The opening ceremony will begin at 8 p.m. on July 24. Gymnastics and wrestling matches are among competitions in which Japanese players are expected to turn in good performances. The men’s gymnastics team final will be held on July 27, with the Japanese team aiming to win their second consecutive Olympic title. The women’s wrestling 57-kilogram final will be held on Aug. 6. If Kaori Icho earns


By The Japan News
April 18, 2019

Analysis, Current affairs

A FAQ on Indian Elections

Asia News Network’s Ishan Joshi takes a look at some of the most frequently asked questions about the Indian election. Termed the “biggest democratic exercise’ in the world, India’s mega election spans over a number of days and involves a significant percentage of the world’s population. Asia News Network Associate Editor Ishan Joshi takes a look at some of the most pressing questions as the elections continue in India.  Why do the Indian elections take so long? Primarily, because of the logistics involved in conducting elections in this continent-sized country. India has close to 900 million eligible voters spread across 29 states and 7 union territories. Some of these areas are battling armed Islamist/Maoist insurgencies, others are considered sensitive due to issues of social unrest/law and order, and all of them are robus


By Asia News Network
April 16, 2019