Relief to Asia Bibi as Pakistan SC turns down plea against acquittal
Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected the review petition filed against the acquittal of a Christian woman who was on death row for eight years on charges of blasphemy. The apex court's decision in October to overturn the conviction of Asia Bibi sparked nationwide protests and death threats from hardline groups.
A three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, dismissed the review petition filed by Qari Muhammad Salaam, Dawn reported. During the hearing, Salaam's lawyer said that the matter of Aasia's acquittal is a matter concerning the Muslim clergy and religious scholars should also be called to present their point of view.
"How is this a matter of religion?" the chief justice asked. "Has the verdict not been given on merit?" "The verdict was given on the basis of testimonies; does Islam say that one should be punished even if they are found not guilty?" he asked.
"Prove to us what [you believe] is wrong with the verdict," said Chief Justice Khosa said. He further said that if testimonies of those involved in the case were not judged correctly, the court will review them and if the matter needs to be referred to a larger bench, the decision will be taken.
"An FIR lodged five days after an incident is suspect," said Justice Khosa while referring to report lodged in the case and which formed the basis for Aasia's prosecution. He said that testimonies also differed in their account regarding the size and the place of the crowd which had gathered following the blasphemy accusation, the Express Tribune reported.
The lawyer countered that late registration of an FIR does not necessarily mean ill intention. "Should we then hand an accused on the basis of such testimonies," questioned the chief justice.
He dismissed the review petition filed against the acquittal of Aasia Bibi, saying the petitioner was not able to point out any mistake in the apex court verdict acquitting the 47-year-old woman. Security was tightened in Islamabad where the court is located.
Paramilitary Rangers were deployed in addition to the regular police to deal with any unsavoury situation. Bibi's lawyer, who fled to the Netherlands after receiving death threats for defending her, returned home last week to represent her in the case.
Bibi, a 47-year-old mother of four, who is now in protective custody, was convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting Islam in a row with her neighbours. She always maintained her innocence, but spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement. She challenged the verdict in October 2014 in the Lahore High Court which upheld the death sentence.
The apex court's decision to acquit her had sparked three-day-long mass protests led by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). Qari filed the review petition in the case on November 1, 2018 at the Lahore registry of the apex court, urging the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.
In the petition, it has been argued that the Supreme Court's acquittal of Bibi did not meet the standards of jurisprudence as well as Islamic provisions and the "normal principle of justice with reference to application in blasphemy laws".
(With inputs from agencies.)
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