Blasphemy serious offence, but insult of Asia Bibi's religion and fabricating crime also blasphemous: Pakistan Supreme Court

A Christian woman who spent eight years on death row under Pakistan's blasphemy law was acquitted and ordered released Wednesday by the country's Supreme Court.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel had reserved its ruling on Asia's final legal appeal against execution (Asia Bibi versus The State) on 8 October.

 Blasphemy serious offence, but insult of Asia Bibis religion and fabricating crime also blasphemous: Pakistan Supreme Court

File image of Asia Bibi. Reuters

"The appeal is allowed. She has been acquitted. The judgement of the high court, as well as trial court, is reversed," Dawn quoted Nisar as saying. "Her conviction is set aside and she is to be relieved forthwith if not required in other charges," he added.

The 56-page detailed judgement has been authored by Nisar, also comprises a separate concurrent opinion note from Justice Khosa.

Here are some of the key observations made by the apex court:

— The judgment began by saying that the Islamic religion guarantees religious freedom and fairness. "Islam may tolerate anything but it teaches zero tolerance for injustice, oppression, and violation of the rights of other human beings the Quran speaks about, from the very beginning.

"If our religion of Islam comes down heavily upon the commission of blasphemy, then Islam is also very tough against those who level false allegations of a crime," it said.

— The bench noted that the prosecution was unable to successfully prove its case. "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 the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt throughout the trial."

"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," it added.

"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 in the judgment.

— In addition to citing the Quran, the judges also referenced Shakespeare's King Lear, saying Asia was "more sinned against than sinning."

— Justice Khosa in his opinion note said, "I have found that the evidence produced by the prosecution in respect of the said public gathering and about what transpired therein was not only an afterthought but was nothing short of concoction incarnate."

— "Blasphemy is a serious offence but the insult of the appellant's (Asia Bibi) religion and religious sensibilities by the complainant party and then mixing truth with falsehood in the name of the Holy Prophet Mohammad was also not short of being blasphemous," the court observed.

"She (Asia) shall be released from the jail forthwith if not required to be detained in connection with any other case," he wrote.

Read the full judgment here:

Asia, who has been held in solitary confinement on death row since 2010, was accused of blasphemy after she quarreled with two fellow women farm workers, who refused to drink from a container used by a Christian. A few days later, a mob accused her of insulting Islam's Prophet Mohammad, leading to her initial conviction.

Asia's family and her lawyer, Saiful Malook, say she never insulted the prophet. In previous hearings, Malook pointed to contradictions in testimony from witnesses.

The two Muslim women who pressed charges against Asia denied they quarreled with her, saying her outbursts against Islam were unprovoked despite several other witnesses who recalled the dispute.

Asia was the first woman who was given death sentence under the blasphemy laws. According to officials, Asia might be flown out of Pakistan due to threat to her life. It is not clear where she will go, as several countries, including France and Canada, have offered asylum to her.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Nov 01, 2018 13:25:38 IST