Asia Bibi with her family. — Photo: File

These 7 points explain the Supreme Court's decision to free Aasia Bibi

The Aasia Bibi case suffered from several serious weaknesses which the court has highlighted in its judgement.
Published November 1, 2018

This article was originally published after the Supreme Court's decision to acquit Aasia Bibi in November 2018.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued its much-anticipated judgement in the 'Aasia Bibi v. The State, etc' case, reversing earlier judgments handed down by the Lahore High Court as well as a trial court and thereby overturning the conviction of Aasia Bibi in the blasphemy case against her.

The three-judge bench subsequently ordered the 50-something mother-of-four's immediate release from jail, where she had been languishing for 9-odd years.

The Supreme Court's judgement — a seismic event in the country's history, judicial or otherwise — heavily references Islamic teachings and tradition, but ultimately relies on an assessment of facts and evidence to support the overturning of the earlier conviction.

Below are a few of the key points shared in the judgment.

1. Over 25 witnesses but only two accusations

What the SC judgement said:

"There were 25-30 ladies present at the spot when the appellant allegedly passed blasphemous remarks against the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Hum), however, none of the other ladies except Mafia Bibi (Prosecution Witness 2) and Asma Bibi (Prosecution Witness 3) reported the matter to anyone... At this stage, it is to be noted that the said ladies did not appear before the Court to support the prosecution case."

2. First Information Report (FIR) registered suspiciously late

What the SC judgement said:

"There is no denial of the fact that the FIR was registered with a delay of 5 days... it is to be noted that in absence of any plausible explanation, this Court has always considered the delay in lodging of FIR to be fatal [to the case] and castes a suspicion on the prosecution story, extending the benefit of doubt to the accused... Furthermore, FIR lodged after conducting an inquiry loses its evidentiary value."

"Another important aspect of the matter is that the complainant (PW-1) in his statement admitted that the application for registration of FIR was drafted by an Advocate; however, he could not mention his name. This also cast doubt on the truthfulness of the story narrated in the FIR."

3. Witnesses in the case gave contradictory statements

The contradictions in the witnesses' statements as noted by the Court are listed below:

Mafia Bibi (PW.2)

  • She stated during cross examination that there were "more than 1,000" present in the public gathering where Aasia Bibi had allegedly 'confessed' to committing blasphemy. However, she never mentioned this fact in her initial statement.

  • She stated during cross examination that this public gathering took place at her house. However, this was again never mentioned in her initial statement.

  • She stated during cross examination that "many Ulema" were present at the public gathering. However, she never mentioned this in her initial statement.

Asma Bibi (PW.3)

  • During cross examination, she stated that the public gathering took place in the house of her neighbour, Rana Razzaq. However, she did not mention this in her initial statement. Also notice that her own had sister testified that the gathering took place in their own house.

  • She said during cross examination that "more than 2,000" people were present in the public gathering. She never mentioned this in her initial statement. Also notice that her own sister had testified that 1,000 people were present at the gathering

Muhammad Afzal (PW.4)

  • During his examination in chief, he said that he was present in his own house when Mafia and Asma, along with Qari Muhammad Salam (PW.1 and the complainant in the case) and Mukhtar Ahmad came to inform him of the incident. He never mentioned this in his initial statement.

  • He said in his examination that the public gathering took place at the house of Mukhtar Ahmed, which he did not mention in his initial statement. Also notice that he contradicted both Asma and Mafia regarding where the public gathering was held.

Qari Muhammad Salaam (PW.1, complainant)

  • He first said that Mafia, Asma and a third witness had informed him as well as other people of the village about Aasia's alleged blasphemy. However, he later said they had only informed him, Muhammad Afzal and Muhammad Mukhtar, who were present at the occasion.Notice that this contradicts Muhammad Afzal's statement, who said he was in his house when Mafia, Asma, Salam and Mukhtar came to inform him of the incident.

  • After not mentioning anything in his initial statement, he said during his cross examination that the public gathering in which Aasia had 'confessed' was held at Mukhtar Ahmed's house. This contradicts the statements given by the two female witnesses who had different versions of where the gathering was held.

"These material contradictions and inconsistent statements of the witnesses are tantamount to cast further doubts on the coherence of the evidence."

4. Complainant unsure about date of crime

What the SC judgement said:

"A further conflict also prevails between the other PWs and the complainant. Other PWs stated that the matter was brought to the notice of complainant on the same day i.e. 14.6.2009; however, the complainant during his cross-examination stated that he was informed of the occurrence on 16.6.2009."

5. Glaring discrepancies regarding FIR and arrest

What the SC judgement said:

"At the bottom of the FIR, the place of registration of the FIR has been mentioned that the FIR was registered by Mehdi Hassan, SI [Sub Inspector] at “bridge canal Chandar Cot” and the time of registration is given as '5:45 pm'... Conversely, the complainant (PW.1) in his statement has mentioned that the FIR was registered by delivering the application to the SHO concerned. However, Muhammad Rizwan, SI (PW.5) stated that the complainant presented before him the complaint upon which he formally registered the FIR."

"With regard to the arrest of the accused, further contradictions exist in the statement of Muhammad Arshad, SI (PW.7); inasmuch as, he [Arshad] stated in his examination-in-chief that the accused was arrested by him with the help of two lady constables, presented to the Judicial Magistrate and sent to judicial lockup... It was then stated in the cross-examination that the accused was arrested by him on 19.6.2009 from her house situated at Village Ittanwali at about 4/5pm; however, at a subsequent point of time it was stated by him that he reached the Village Ittanwali at about 7 p.m. and remained there for one hour."

6. Lying about not fighting with Aasia Bibi

The court noted that the two sisters, Asma and Mafia Bibi, who were key witnesses, had both denied that any altercation took place between them and Aasia Bibi over the fetching of water.

However, it pointed out that a police officer who investigated the case and the owner of the plantation where the incident took place — both unrelated and independent witnesses — "admitted in their statements that an altercation/quarrel took place between them [Asma, Mafia and Aasia], thus the factum of quarrel is proved from the record".

Noting that the prosecution had not declared the police officer as a 'hostile witness' — that is, questioned his statement that the fight took place — the sisters Asma and Mafia "could not be termed as truthful witnesses and the death sentence could not be inflicted on the testimony of such eyewitnesses".

"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."

7. Extra-judicial confession

What the SC judgement said:

"This Court has repeatedly held that evidence of extra-judicial confession is a fragile piece of evidence and utmost care and caution has to be exercised in placing reliance on such a confession... It is always looked at with doubt and suspicion due to the ease with which it may be concocted. The legal worth of the extra judicial confession is almost equal to naught, keeping in view the natural course of events, human behaviour, conduct and probabilities, in ordinary course."

"In this very instant case, the appellant was brought to a gathering of potentially hundreds of people, she was alone at the time, tensions were running high, and it was an intimidating environment, the appellant may well have felt threatened and vulnerable; thus, the alleged extra-judicial confession made by the appellant, even if presumed to have been made by her before such public gathering, cannot be termed as a voluntary action and nor it can be relied upon to form the basis of a conviction, especially for capital punishment."

For further details and more points raised by the Court, read the full judgment here.