Pakistan SC acquits Asia Bibi

The Supreme Court of Pakistan today  acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death over blasphemy allegations, and ordered her immediate release.

Pakistan SC acquits jailed Christian mother but acquitted after eight years. Still  threats of violent nationwide protests persist.

Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih and their two daughters, currently in London, anxiously await her safe release and reunion with her after eight years of wrongful detention.

Asiya Bibi was convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting Islam in a row with her neighbours. She always maintained her innocence, but has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement.

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 Bibi’s 2014 appeal against her conviction and death sentence under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

The chief justice wrote that it was a “well settled principal of law that the one who makes an assertion has to prove it. 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.”

The top judge added that the expression “proof beyond reasonable doubt” was of fundamental importance to the criminal justice and was one of the principles which sought to ensure that no innocent person was convicted.

CJP Nisar added, “Keeping in mind the evidence produced by the prosecution against the alleged blasphemy committed by the appellant, the prosecution has categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. The judgments of the High Court as well as the Trial Court are reversed. Consequently, the conviction as also the sentence of death awarded to the appellant is set aside and she is acquitted of the charge. She be released from jail forthwith, if not required in any other criminal case.”

Further, Justice Khosa “because of some important legal and factual issues involved in the case” decided to record his separate concurring opinion which stated that the prosecution had failed to prove its case against Asia Bibi beyond a reasonable doubt. “This appeal is, therefore, allowed, the conviction and sentence of the appellant recorded and upheld by the courts below are set aside and she is acquitted of the charge by extending the benefit of doubt to her,” he stated.

Justice Khosa’s opinion added, “Blasphemy is a serious offence but the insult of the appellant’s religion and religious sensibilities by the complainant party and then mixing truth with falsehood in the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was also not short of being blasphemous.”

“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’s opinion read.

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