A special three-member bench of the Supreme Court on Monday reserved its judgement on the final appeal against the execution of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy.
Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, were hearing Bibi’s 2014 appeal (Asia Bibi v. The State, etc).
While reserving the verdict on the appeal, the CJP cautioned the media against commenting on or discussing the case until the detailed judgement has been issued.
No date has been announced by the court about when it will announce the verdict on the appeal.
Allegations against Asia Bibi
Asia Bibi was convicted for blasphemy under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code for allegedly defaming Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The offence carries mandatory death penalty under Pakistani law.
The allegations against Bibi are that she made three “defamatory and sarcastic” statements about the Prophet (PBUH) on June 14, 2009, during an argument with three Muslim women while the four of them were picking fruit in a field.
The prosecution also claims Bibi “admitted” making these statements at a “public gathering” on June 19, 2009 and asked for forgiveness.
A trial court convicted Bibi for blasphemy in November 2010 and sentenced her to death. The Lahore High Court (LHC) upheld her conviction and confirmed her death sentence in October 2014.
The Supreme Court admitted her appeal in July 2015.
Lawyer tells SC witnesses lied in statements
Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Mulook told the bench on Monday that the June 14, 2009 incident was reported on June 19. A case was filed against Bibi by a prayer leader in the village of Katanwala in Nankana Sahib, according to which Asia Bibi had confessed to committing blasphemy, he said.
“Are these things on the record?” the CJP asked Saiful Mulook.
“No permission to file the FIR was taken from the district coordination officer or the district police officer,” he said, adding that the prayer leader in the FIR said that the villagers had not attempted to beat Asia Bibi.
“What we can conclude from your statements is that the prayer leader himself did not witness the incident as it happened,” Justice Khosa observed. “No blasphemous language was uttered in the presence of the prayer leader.”
“According to the prayer leader, a panchayat [to discuss the matter] was held in a house. It was said that 1,000 people were gathered for the meeting,” the CJP said.
Asia Bibi and two Muslim women had a heated exchange, the lawyer told the court. The reason behind it was that the women had refused to drink water from the same dish as Asia.
The statements of the Muslim women, Asma and Isma, are contradictory, the lawyer said.
At this, the CJP asked the lawyer why he had not given arguments regarding the contradictions when the case was being heard by lower courts.
Justice Nisar observed that the witnesses had not testified to Bibi disrespecting the Prophet, but instead described the incident that had taken place in the agricultural field. The witnesses also stated that a jirga had been called over the matter for which people had gathered.
The lawyer recalled that, according to a witness statement, the owner of the land where the incident took place was present when Asia confessed. All the witnesses were trying their best to ensure Asia does not get away, he added.
The investigation was faulty and grounded in malicious intent. In such a situation, Section 295-C is inapplicable, the lawyer argued.
The CJP wondered whether the assistant superintendent police’s probe could be relied upon, to which the lawyer replied that police had wrongfully registered the case, according to Asia Bibi.
“The witness testimonies did not state that she had used blasphemous language for the Holy Quran,” he said. “No blasphemous words were used at all. Asia, in her statement, said that she could not even conceive of committing blasphemy,” Saiful Mulook said.
He added that she respects Islamic education and the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) with all her heart.
“She simply had an argument with two women. During that argument, they exchanged harsh words,” the lawyer said.
“What kind of incident is this? That you were argued with, harsh words were used for you, and then the case was also filed against you?” the CJP wondered.
“Are you suggesting it is possible that the person who filed the case, the prayer leader, is being used by someone else?” Justice Khosa asked. “That he is a frontman and someone else is behind him?”
“It is possible that this is the case,” the lawyer said. He went on to say that the witnesses are lying.
The CJP asked the lawyer whether blasphemy falls under the law of hadd, to which the counsel responded in affirmative.
The lawyer informed the bench that Bibi, who is an illiterate woman, was referred to as a preacher in the FIR. “This reflects ill-intention [on the part of the complainant],” he added.
Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, the lawyer representing complainant Qari Islam, argued that Bibi had used blasphemous words regarding the Prophet.
“These are the same words that Christians usually use,” he said, adding that such cases often gain international attention.
Justice Khosa said that it was possible that the blasphemous words Bibi was accused of uttering were actually used by the lawyer who drafted the complaint against her.
Chaudhry argued that the appeal against the trial court’s verdict was filed after a delay of 11 days. He said neither the incident [during which the alleged blasphemous remarks were uttered] nor the presence of the accused and the witnesses was denied in the appeal.
“The accused has confessed to her crime,” he said.
Justice Khosa then observed that the imam of the mosque was not a direct witness to the incident.
“He [the imam] later became a crusader,” he said, adding that people give a lot of respect to the mosque imam.
The lawyer also contended that no malicious intent was apparent on the part of the prosecution.
Justice Khosa observed that each witness had given a different statement on the panchayat.
“The reverence for the Prophet (PBUH) is part of our faith,” the judge remarked.
He asked the complainant’s lawyer to support his arguments with evidence, adding that “it hurts the entire nation when the accused are acquitted due to technicalities”.
“There is a lot of contradiction between statements given by people [in the case],” the CJP noted.
“Blasphemy is a heinous crime,” he observed. “It remains to be seen whether the allegations [against Bibi] were proven.”
The judge directed the complainant’s lawyer to present evidence based on testimonies.
“A lot is being done to defame Islam,” he said. “All this is done to incite us.”