A district and sessions court in Lahore on January 6, 2022, acquitted a woman charged with blasphemy after it emerged that the complainant had molested the woman and then accused her of committing blasphemy to get away with his crime.
According to details, the woman named Fareeda had been accused of ripping and burning pages of verses from the Holy Quran which were quoted in a book titled, ‘Ramzan-ul-Mubarak Ki Ibadat.’ An FIR [First Information Report] was filed against her on December 19, 2020.
During the proceedings, the defence lawyer contended that Fareeda had been “falsely implicated in the case by the complainant with mala fide and ulterior motives”.
“Irfan and his friend tried to touch my client’s breasts forcibly and accused her of blasphemy when she stopped him. The accused lady took the book in the same condition from the Muqadas Orraq Box,” he said.
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The judge found insufficient evidence in the case, noting that neither a forensics exam nor a thorough police investigation had been conducted, and ordered Fareeda’s immediate release.
In his verdict, the judge remarked that he perused the case property (the book) and found only one page affixed inside the hardcover half torn and slightly burnt. “The front cover page of the book is as safe as it seems to be a new book. Even the internal pages of the book reveal that it is in good condition,” he observed.
“If the accused lady burnt the Holy book for about two to three minutes (as claimed by the complainants) it should have been completely burnt but this is not the case.”
The court pointed out that the case has not been thoroughly investigated by the police and investigation officer. A forensic exam of the book wasn’t conducted either.
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The judge, subsequently, acquitted Fareeda while giving her the benefit of the doubt.
In the verdict, the court also quoted a Supreme Court ruling in another blasphemy case: “It is hardly necessary to reiterate that the prosecution is obliged to prove its case against the accused beyond any reasonable doubt and if it fails to do so the accused is entitled to the benefit of doubt… It is better that ten guilty persons be acquitted rather than one innocent person be convicted.”
This rule occupies a pivotal place in Islamic law and is enforced in view of the saying of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) that the mistake of a qazi (judge) in releasing a criminal is better than his mistake in punishing one.
BLASPHEMY LAW IN PAKISTAN
Under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), anyone who uses derogatory remarks in respect of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is punishable by death.
Section 295-C of the PPC reads, “Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet: Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”
No one has ever been executed under the blasphemy law in Pakistan as higher courts have either overturned or commuted sentences by the lower courts.
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In 2019, in a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Aasia Noreen, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy. In its verdict, the court said, “As noted…sometimes, to fulfill nefarious designs the law is misused by individuals leveling false allegations of blasphemy. Stately, since 1990, 62 people have been murdered as a result of blasphemy allegations, even before their trial could be conducted in accordance with law.”
The ruling on Jan 6, 2022, comes days before a sessions court in Rawalpindi on Jan 19 handed the death penalty to a Muslim woman charged with blasphemy.
Additional Sessions Judge Adnan Mushtaq convicted 26-year-old Aneeqa Ateeq of blasphemy under Section 295-C and sentenced her to death and a fine of Rs 50,000. She was also convicted under different charges, including 298-A PPC and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
On Jan 3, another sessions judge in Rawalpindi changed a Christian’s life prison term under blasphemy laws into the death sentence.
Zafar Bhatti, 56, who has languished in jail since 2012 after being accused of sending blasphemous text messages, received the death sentence from Rawalpindi Additional Sessions Judge Sahibzada Naqeeb when Bhatti’s new lawyer contested the conviction instead of filing for post-conviction bail, said Bhatti’s former lawyer, Tahir Bashir.
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Bhatti had been handed the life sentence, which in Pakistan is 25 years, on May 3, 2017, under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws against defaming Islam’s prophet. Bhatti is considered Pakistan’s longest-serving blasphemy convict.
Pakistan reported 200 blasphemy cases in 2020, the highest annual count in the country’s history, with a sharp increase in the number of accused from the Shia Muslim community.
Out of the 200 blasphemy cases, 75 percent of the accused were Muslims, of whom 70 percent were Shia. The others were Ahmadis (20 percent), Christians (3.5 percent) and Hindus (1 percent).