ISLAMABAD  -  After a year, the Supreme Court on Friday fixed October 8 for hearing of the final appeal of Aasia Bibi, a death-row Christian woman prisoner accused of committing blasphemy.

A three-judge special bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel will hear the appeal on Monday.

The court has issued notices to additional prosecutor general of Punjab Advocates Ghulam Mustafa and Mian Saeedur Rahman Farrukh. The top court has also issued notice to Saif-ul-Malook, counsel for Aasia Bibi.

She was convicted in 2010 after allegedly committing blasphemy during an argument with a Muslim woman in Sheikhupura in June 2009. However, her case sought more prominence when the then Punjab governor Salman Taseer while visiting her in jail commented over the abuse of controversial blasphemy law.

The case invited more attention of the world when Taseer was then assassinated by his security guard Mumtaz Qadri in broad daylight at Kohsar Market Islamabad for merely commenting over misuse of the blasphemy Law. Bibi’s case was last heard by the top court on October 13 in 2017.

However, the case was adjourned shortly after one of the members of the bench Justice Hameed Ur Rehman recused to hear the case, saying that he had, being the Chief Justice Islamabad High Court, heard the case of Qadri, the killer of former Governor Punjab.

The judge recused to become part of the bench because both the matters of late Salman Taseer and Aasia Bibi were deeply related to each other.  He was of the view if the bench heard the Bibi’s case then it would prejudice the matter of Bibi.

The appeal filed by Advocate Saif ul Maluk, counsel for Aasia Bibi, stated that LHC miserably failed to take into consideration the unexplained delay of five days in registration of FIR which seriously reflects upon the veracity of evidence furnished by the prosecution witnesses and the sentence awarded to Aasia could not be sustained in view of the settled principals of administration of justice.

The appeal further contended that LHC further failed to take into consideration the statement made by her wherein she clearly stated that she took oath on Bible before the police that she had never passed derogatory remarks against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) adding since the police conspired with complainant so they falsely booked her in the case.

Aasia, the death-row prisoner, pleaded that LHC also failed to extend benefit of doubt on account of delay in lodging the FIR and due deliberations and consultation among various Molvis who had gathered on different occasions before registration of FIR.

The appeal claimed that Investigation Officer neither visited the place of occurrence nor interrogated the people of the vicinity about the alleged occurrence.

On July 22, 2015, the top court had suspended the Lahore High Court’s October 17 order wherein Aasia’s death sentence was maintained.

Legal experts believe that the hearing of Aasia’s case by the bench, wherein Justice Asif Saeed Khosa is also member of the bench, may prejudice the case.

They say that Justice Khosa had given the judgment and maintained the sentence of Qadri who killed Taseer for favouring Bibi.

A legal expert, on condition of anonymity since the sensitivity involved in the case, said that although the merits of the cases, the Qadri’s case and the Bibi’s case, are different but Justice Khosa had given the observations regarding blasphemy law and its misuse. 

Justice Asif Saeed Khosa is expert in deciding criminal cases and has given thousands of judgments in criminal matters.

Justice Khosa in its October 27, 2015 judgment in Mumtaz Qadri case, who was also executed on account of killing Taseer, had urged the government to ensure that no one is forced to endure an investigation or trial on the basis of false blasphemy allegations.

Justice Khosa while authoring 39 page verdict in Mumtaz Qadri’s case had observed that it is an unfortunate fact which cannot be disputed that in many cases registered in respect of the offence of blasphemy false allegations are leveled for extraneous purposes and in the absence of adequate safeguards against misapplication or misuse of such law by motivated persons the persons falsely accused of commission of that offence suffer beyond proportion or repair.

Referring to one of the Judicial Training Toolkits prepared by the Legal Aid Society, Karachi, the top court in its judgment recalled, cases against 434 offenders under blasphemy laws were registered in Pakistan from 1953 to July 2012. Among them, 258 were Muslims (Sunni/Shia), 114 Christians, 57 Ahmadis and 4 Hindus. Since 1990, 52 people have been extra-judicially murdered for having been implicated in blasphemy cases.

Among them were 25 Muslims, 15 Christians, 5 Ahmadis and 1 each Buddhist and Hindu. During 2013, the verdict said, 34 new cases were registered under the blasphemy laws.

While one death sentence for blasphemy was overturned during the year, at least another 17 people were awaiting execution for blasphemy and at least 20 others were serving life sentences. He asked the government to fulfill its promise of new province in Punjab within 100 days.

He vowed to organise PPP in better manner across the Punjab. Earlier, the PPP chairman reached there by a helicopter which landed at the ground of Government Ambala Muslim College. He was flanked by former premier Raja Pervaiz Asharf and former federal information minister Qamar Zaman Qaira in stringent security.

The government has never carried out a death sentence for blasphemy but a report suggested that at least five people accused of blasphemy had died in police custody in recent years, the judgment said.

The majority of blasphemy cases are based on false accusations stemming from property issues or other personal or family vendettas rather than genuine instances of blasphemy and they inevitably lead to mob violence against the entire community, says the judgment.

 

SYED SABEEHUL HUSSNAIN