ISLAMABAD: Aasia Bibi is finally a free woman after all the legal impediments in her way came to an end on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court threw out a petition seeking to review the Oct 31, 2018, verdict of acquitting the victim of a blasphemy charge.
“On merit, this review petition is dismissed,” pronounced Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa after hearing out for almost 90 minutes Advocate Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa who represented the petitioner Qari Muhammad Salam — the prayer leader who had lodged the original FIR against Aasia Bibi in 2009.
On Oct 31, the SC reversed the judgements of the Lahore High Court as well as the trial court, thus setting aside the conviction and the sentence of death awarded to Aasia Bibi.
But before rejecting the review petition, the bench dissected the entire evidence record to highlight stark discrepancies by asking the counsel to read the entire witness testimonies, which never corroborated with each other.
Chief justice deplores that without reading apex court’s judgement, decrees were passed declaring judges liable to be killed
“Is this the image of Islam we are portraying by showing that we depose false evidence, that too under oath, when our religion ordains us to always speak the truth even if it goes against our own parents,” Chief Justice Khosa observed.
“We have tried our level best to fulfil all the requirements of justice but without reading our judgement, decrees were passed declaring us liable to be killed,” the chief justice deplored, recalling that all of Pakistan had been blocked [by protesters] and everything that came in their way was torched. One should carry out some introspection to ascertain how the case was built and the high expectation created that the court would award punishment entailing the death penalty to the accused, the chief justice observed.
Soon after the announcement of the judgement, senior counsel Saiful Malook, who represented Aasia Bibi in the first round, dubbed the review petition “frivolous,” adding in response to a question by the media that she was in Pakistan but might have to leave.
On his part, Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa said that the SC discussion rested upon matters post the occurrence of the incident and not on the actual occurrence. Aasia Bibi was acquitted after being given the benefit of the doubt by the SC, he said.
Highlighting the world of differences on the testimonies of the witnesses, the chief justice also asked the counsel what action such witnesses deserved under Section 194 of the Code of Criminal Procedure for committing perjury, which suggested imprisonment for life after a summary trial. This would help discourage the tendency of deposing false witnesses before the court.
At the outset of proceedings on Tuesday, Chaudhry Mustafa pleaded the ordering of a larger bench on which religious scholars should also be invited. But the chief justice observed that the review petition was not a religious issue.
During the hearing, the court repeatedly asked the lawyer to cite glaring errors that, according to him, were floating on the surface of the judgement or evidence misread by the court, adding that the court was willing to rectify the same without any hesitation. The chief justice also reminded the counsel that Islam has always laid emphasis on extending protection to minorities. However, the counsel argued, it was the duty of minorities to honour and adhere to the laws of the land.
When the counsel read out the evidence deposed by different witnesses, the chief justice reminded him that the testimonies of witnesses accusing Aasia Bibi of uttering derogatory remarks were all generalised in nature. Likewise, all the witnesses deposed different statements about the venue and the number of people attending a public gathering where it was claimed that Aasia Bibi accepted her guilt and sought pardon. The complaint was registered by Qari Salam after five days of the alleged occurrence in which even the time of the incident was not mentioned, no less any hint of a public gathering. Some say that the ‘public gathering’ that was held on Friday noon continued for only 15 to 20 minutes, whereas others say over two hours. If the public gathering continued for hours, then the people of the area must have missed their Juma prayers, the chief justice observed.
The testimonies of the witnesses are replete with so many lies that in an ordinary case, the court could have ordered the registration of a case against the witnesses on perjury. “Our criminal justice system would not be suffering the kind of malaise it does had we been truthful in our conduct,” the chief justice regretted, adding that “I will deliberately avoid commenting about the courts which decided the matter earlier.”
Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2019