ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court while acquitting a Christian Woman Aasia Bibi of blasphemy charges in its judgment observed massive contradictions in the case built up by the prosecution.

The 34-page judgment authored by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar with additional 22-page note of Justice Asif Saeed Khosa observed number of discrepancies and inconsistencies in the statements of prosecution witnesses which are also inconsonance to each other.

“All these contradictions are sufficient to cast a shadow of doubt on the prosecution’s version of facts, which itself entitles the appellant (Aasia) to the right of benefit of the doubt,” observed chief justice.

Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar started his judgment with Qalimah-e-Shahadat and its translation, couplets of National Poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal as well as verses.

The judgement observed that it is a well settled principle of law that for the accused to be afforded this right of the benefit of the doubt, it is not necessary that there should be many circumstances creating uncertainty.

“If a single circumstance creates reasonable doubt in a prudent mind about the apprehension of guilt of an accused, then he/she shall be entitled to such benefit not as a matter of grace and concession, but as of right.” 

The judgment stated that 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.

“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. It could be taken as corroborative of the charge if it, in the first instance, rings true and then finds support from other evidence of unimpeachable character. If the other evidence lacks such attribute, it has to be excluded from consideration.”

It is a well settled principle of law that one who makes an assertion has to prove it, the judgment added. 

“Thus, the onus rests on the prosecution to prove 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 further added that the suspicion, howsoever, grave or strong can never be a proper substitute for the standard of proof required in a criminal case which should be beyond reasonable doubt.

“Keeping in mind the evidence produced by the prosecution against the alleged blasphemy committed by the appellant (Aasia), the prosecution has categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt,” the top court ruled. 

The court noted that as per two prosecution witnesses Mafia and Asma stated there were 25-30 ladies present at the spot but none of the ladies reported the matter except the two. 

“This creates doubt regarding the prosecution story, however, a thorough analysis of the statements of all the essential witnesses is required in order to reach towards a just and proper conclusion, which shall be made at the later stage.”

The judgment also termed the delay in registration of FIR as unreasonable.   “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 and castes a suspicion on the prosecution story, extending the benefit of doubt to the accused,” the judgment observed adding that if there is any delay in lodging of a FIR and commencement of investigation, it gives rise to a doubt, which, of course, cannot be extended to anyone else except to the accused.  It is further stated that complainant in his statement admitted that the application for registration of FIR was drafted by an advocate but he could not mention his name. “This also cast doubt on the truthfulness of the story narrated in the FIR.”

“Further to that, there were many discrepancies/ inconsistencies in the statements of the PWs; inasmuch as, the variations made by Mafia Bibi from her earlier statement recorded under Section 161 Cr.P.C. and when got confronted to her are: firstly, during her cross examination she stated that there were more than 1000 people at the time of public gathering but this was not mentioned in her previous statement, secondly, during her cross examination she stated that the public gathering took place at the house of her father but it was not mentioned in her previous statement, thirdly, during her cross examination she stated that many Ulemas were present at the public gathering but this was not mentioned in her previous statement.”

Likewise, the judgment stated, Asma Bibi and Muhammad Afzal, the other prosecution witnesses, also deviated from earlier statements.  “Qari Muhammad Salaam (complainant/PW.1) also transformed his earlier complaint submitted before the police for the registration of the FIR: firstly, during his examination-in-chief he stated that he was present in the village when Mafia Bibi (PW.2), Asma Bibi (PW.3) and Yasmin Bibi (given up PW) came to him and informed him of the occurrence, at that time Muhammad Afzal and Muhammad Mukhtar were also present there, however, in his complaint he stated that Mafia Bibi (PW.2), Asma Bibi (PW.3) and Yasmin Bibi (given up PW) and others informed him of the occurrence as well as informing the other people of the village; secondly, he further stated that the public gathering took place at the house of Mukhtar Ahmed, but this was not mentioned in his complaint; thirdly, he stated that the appellant was brought to the public gathering, but it was not mentioned in his complaint. Thus, such inconsistent statements undermine the evidence of the prosecution.”

The judgement added that these material contradictions and inconsistent statements of the witnesses are tantamount to cast further doubts on the coherence of the evidence

It noted that in the FIR, it has been vaguely mentioned that Asma and Mafia brought the alleged occurrence to the notice of the complainant and other villagers.

“Thus, the witnesses while giving their statements were not consistent in this regard,” the judgment added further stating that the witnesses are also not consistent as to how many persons were present at the time of the public gathering.

Thus, on this issue too where the public gathering took place, there are material contradictions between the statements given by the witnesses, it added.

The judgment also observed inconsistencies in the statements regarding the issue of the distance between the place of the public gathering and the house of the Aasia.

The witnesses were also not in consonance regarding the time and duration of the public gathering. The judgment also noted the contradiction in the place of registering of FIR 

 Furthermore, 2 women prosecution witnesses Asma and Mafia categorically denied the fact that quarrel took place between the Aasia and them on the fetching of water while another prosecution witness and court witness admitted that quarrel took place between them.

“In this eventuality, the said PWs could not be termed as truthful witnesses and the death sentence could not be inflicted on the testimony of such eye witnesses, which even otherwise are interested witnesses.”

The judgement further observed that in the instant case, Aasia was brought to a gathering of potentially hundreds of people adding that she may well have felt threatened and vulnerable and this extra-judicial confession 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.

Justice Asif Saeed Khosa agreed with the reasons and conclusions of Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar. He observed that the law is settled that a piece of evidence or a circumstance not put to the accused person at the time of recording of his statement under section 342, Cr.P.C. cannot be used or considered against him. 

The evidence produced by the prosecution regarding bringing Aasia to the public gathering was equally discrepant and utterly unreliable.

“There was a general consensus among the prosecution witnesses that the public gathering was held on a Friday and it had commenced its proceedings around Noon time. If the proceedings had continued for two to two and a half hours then the participants of the gathering, including some religious scholars and Imams of mosques, might have missed their Friday prayers which was not expected of them!”

It further stated that the original FIR was in the shape of a written application drafted by an Advocate but the record of the case is completely silent about availability of an Advocate

“It is quite strange and out of the ordinary that Qari Muhammad Salaam complainant (PW1), the initiator of this criminal case, did not remember who had drafted the application Exhibit-PA for the purpose of lodging the FIR and he did not even know where and before whom the said application had been presented by him for the purpose of getting an FIR registered.” 

“The glaring and stark contradictions in the evidence produced by the prosecution in respect of every factual aspect of this case, noticed by me above, lead to an irresistible and unfortunate impression that all those concerned in the case with providing evidence and conducting investigation had taken upon themselves not to speak the truth or at least not to divulge the whole truth. It is equally disturbing to note that the courts below had also, conveniently or otherwise, failed to advert to such contradictions and some downright falsehood,” Justice Khosa in his additional note added.

“Even if there was some grain of truth in the allegations levelled in this case against the appellant still the glaring contradictions in the evidence of the prosecution highlighted above clearly show that the truth in this case had been mixed with a lot which was untrue.”

“It is ironical that in the Arabic language the appellant’s name Asia means ‘sinful’ but in the circumstances of the present case she appears to be a person, in the words of Shakespeare’s King Leare, “more sinned against than sinning,” Justice Khosa concluded.