ISLAMABAD  -   Reserving judgment on the appeal of death-row Christian woman and blasphemy accused Aasia Bibi, Supreme Court on Monday observed that a lot was being done to defame Islam and incite the Muslims but the case had to be decided on the basis of evidence. 

The top court, however, noted that prosecution was weak in the case.

The court also barred media from any kind of debate and opinions before announcement of the judgment.

Heading a three-judge bench, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar observed that there were no two choices on the issue of blasphemy and it was a heinous act but the benefit of doubt will go to other side in case of lack of evidence.

Aasia was convicted in 2010 after allegedly committing blasphemy during an argument with a Muslim woman over a bowl of water in Sheikhupura in June 2009. The case of Aasia Bibi has taken two lives including then Governor Punjab Salman Taseer and his guard Mumtaz Qadri, who was executed for assassinating Taseer.

Other members of the bench are Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel.

When the hearing commenced, Advocate Saiful Malook, counsel for Aasia, appeared before the bench and said that there was no time of occurrence mentioned in the FIR and that the FIR was registered five days after the occurrence.

Justice Khosa noticed five issues in the matter, saying that the occurrence date in the FIR was stated as June 14, 2009 but the occurrence date was mentioned as June 16, 2009 in the statement of Prosecution Witness (PW) 1.

The other issue Justice Khosa noted was that the FIR was registered 5 days after the occurrence and the application was drafted by an advocate and not the complainant himself. He further noted that there was no mention of public gathering, which took place between the occurrence date and registration of FIR while the places of registration of FIR were also contradicting.

Malook said that statements of PWs also differed in the estimated number of people gathered from 1,000 to 3,000 at a house of mere 5 marlas.

Justice Khosa further noted that the statements of PWs that Aasia came into public gathering and confessed to uttering blasphemous words was also not mentioned in statement of police.

Malook further stated that there were discrepancies in the statements wherein one said that Aasia was brought from her house to the public gathering while the other statement mentioned that the accused was brought from the field.

During the hearing, Justice Khosa also observed that there was discrepancy in the statement of PW5 Rizwan Moharrar.

Justice Khosa further observed that under the law, the superintendent of police was supposed to investigate independently; instead he summoned the persons, listened to them and passed the verdict to fill the file.

When different versions of PWs brought before the court, the chief justice questioned why the people would gather when no occurrence took place. To this, Malook said everything was built which was not legally premised. 

Malook said that Aasia in her statement categorically denied the allegations and stated that she had great honour and respect for Holy Prophet P.B.U.H. Malook added that contrary to the FIR, Aasia stated that she was not priest of Christianity and an uneducated woman.

The chief justice raised the question as to who provided primary information to the advocate on the basis of which he wrote the complaint.

To this, Justice Khosa remarked that there could be an argument that the Qari was being used by someone else because he was not aware as to whose application it was.

Malook responded in affirmative and contended that there was not corroboration between the two other main PWs, who are sisters namely Aasma and Maafiha.

Justice Khosa, however, questioned as to what kind of corroboration the counsel was requiring, adding that the PWs had no animosity with Aasia and that the PWs had recorded their statements on oath. “You had the option to also record the statement on oath but you did not,” Justice Khosa said.

Malook further argued that there was quarrel and annoyance but nothing derogatory.

The chief justice also questioned if the matter was only a bowl of water, then what led the ladies to go beyond the extent of accusing Aasia of Section 295C, the blasphemy, which had drastic consequences.

Malook responded that the issue started with exchange of arguments and verbal brawl and then gone further. He added that the matter had to be treated as the case of Hadd and Qasas.

However, Justice Khosa rejected the argument and remarked that the matter had to be treated as Tazeer. Even in England people are convicted in blasphemy and in other countries as well, so the matter of the blasphemy could not be treated as Qasas, he observed.

“It is not the situation that the matter has religious aspect so it will fall under Hadd and Qasas. Even Section 302 has different parts including the Qasas and Tazeer,” said Justice Khosa. “Had it been the matter of Hadd or Qasas, then it would have gone to Shariat Court but this is not the eventuality,” he further observed.

He further observed that the cases were decided by the evidence brought before the court and not on the basis of investigations. He further observed that Islam has the standard of telling the truth. Malook concluded that the case was full of infirmities.

Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, the counsel representing the complainant, argued that Aasia had used the same blasphemous words which were usually used by the Christians. However, Justice Khosa remarked that it was possible that the blasphemous words attributed to Aasia were actually made by the advocate who drafted the complaint against her.

“The accused has confessed to her crime,” he further stated.

Justice Khosa remarked that the imam of the mosque had not been a direct witness to the occurrence and later became like a crusader (to seek justice), adding that the imam despite taking oath told half truth. Justice Khosa also wondered as to why every witness had given a different statement on the matter of public gathering.

Justice Khosa observed that one of the PWs stated that Aasia’s religion was derogated by refusal of Muslim women to drink water from the Christian and in response, Aasia made derogatory remarks.

The chief justice observed that according to the evidence, there was no insult to Christianity as well.

While referring to the verse of Surah Inam of Holy Quran, Justice Khosa observed that it was the message of almighty Allah not to speak anything against a religion of someone lest he unknowingly say something against your religion.

He however enquired of the counsel for the complainant as where was the evidence to suggest that Aasia had committed blasphemy. If the evidence will not be provided, then the benefit of doubt will have to go to the other side, the chief justice remarked.

The bench also noted contradictions between the statements given by the people.