Man acquitted of blasphemy charge after six years

Updated 07 Oct 2020

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More than 3,000 people had rampaged through Joseph Colony, torching some 100 Christian homes in Lahore, after the allegations against Sawan Masih emerged. — File photo
More than 3,000 people had rampaged through Joseph Colony, torching some 100 Christian homes in Lahore, after the allegations against Sawan Masih emerged. — File photo

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) has acquitted a Christian man on death row six years after his conviction for alleged blasphemy, which also led to torching of more than 100 houses at Joseph Colony, a Christian-dominated neighbourhood in Badami Bagh.

A two-judge LHC bench comprising Justice Asjad Javed Ghural and Justice Syed Shahbaz Ali through a short order on Monday allowed the appeal of Sawan Masih against his conviction by a trial court.

A detailed verdict of the bench was yet to be released, Nadeem Anthony, a member of the appellant’s legal team, told Dawn.

Sawan was booked and arrested on the complaint of Shahid Imran on March 8, 2013. After a year-long trial, an additional district and sessions judge on March 27, 2014, handed down death penalty to him under Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code.

The appeal filed in 2014 stated that the trial court ignored the basic principles of criminal justice in general and principles of Islamic justice in particular. It said the trial court committed material irregularity in non-reading and misreading of the evidence on record that caused serious miscarriage of justice.

The convict during the trial had argued that the allegation against him was part of a conspiracy hatched by Badami Bagh iron market traders who had been interested in purchase of Joseph Colony land, but the residents had rejected their offers. Following the alleged occurrence hundreds of people after being provoked by the local clerics had attacked Joseph Colony and torched more than 100 houses of the Christians. Police had registered cases against the attackers under Section 7 of Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, but all the suspects were later acquitted for ‘want of evidence’.

In his appeal, Sawan argued that the trial court based the conviction on the second version of the complainant recorded in a supplementary statement some eight days after the occurrence of offence in an attempt to remove lacuna in his initial version. The trial court also ignored a serious lapse in the prosecution case that the FIR of the alleged incident was registered with an ‘unexplained’ delay of 33 hours, he said.

The appellant pleaded that the trial court failed to take judicial notice of the ‘false’ story in which the complainant alleged that he “suddenly started uttering derogatory remarks” against Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). It said the trial court completely ignored the statement of the appellant under Section 342 of the criminal procedure code.

According to the appeal, the prosecution failed to prove its case on the basis of independent and unimpeachable evidence as the same was full of contradictions and uncorroborated evidence.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2020