ISLAMABAD – The Supreme Court of Pakistan reserved its judgment on the appeal of Asia Bibi against her conviction and death sentence under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) on Monday.
A three-judge special bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel heard the appeal of the Christian mother of four, who in 2010 became the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
While reserving the verdict on the appeal, the CJP cautioned the media against commenting on or discussing the case until the detailed judgment has been issued.
Asia Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Mulook told the bench that 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.
Asia’s lawyer recalled that, according to a witness statement, the owner of the land where the incident took place was present when she 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-Cis inapplicable, the lawyer argued.
“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.
The allegations against Bibi date back to June 2009, when she was labouring in a field and a row broke out with some Muslim women who alleged that she committed blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).
Bibi was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 2010.
The top court had last taken up the appeal in October 2016, but had to adjourn the matter without hearing after one of the judges recused himself from the SC bench.