ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has fixed January 29 for hearing a review petition against its verdict acquitting Aasia Bibi in a blasphemy case.
The case will be heard by a three-member bench, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and comprising Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel.
Justice Isa has been included in the special bench after the retirement of former chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar.
The 56-page SC verdict set aside the Lahore High Court (LHC) judgement, directing authorities to release Bibi from prison. Bibi was acquitted on October 30, 2018.
Bibi's attorney Saiful Malook already left the country two days after the announcement of the verdict as he was facing life threats.
Before his departure, Malook while talking to The Express Tribune had clarified that he would return to Pakistan to represent Bibi at the hearing of the review petition if the army provided him security.
According to the cause list, notice has only been issued to the complainant for the hearing on January 29.
If the bench is convinced that the matter should be re-examined it may issue a notice to Bibi and the Punjab prosecution. While exercising its review jurisdiction, the SC rarely reverses its verdict.
The 51-year-old Christian woman was on death row since November 2010 after she was convicted on charges of committing blasphemy during an argument with two Muslim women in Sheikhupura.
Her case gained prominence after the then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer pleaded for a retrial of her case and was subsequently shot dead by one of his guards, Mumtaz Qadri, in January 2011.
Bibi challenged the verdict in October 2014; however, the LHC upheld the death sentence. The apex court had stayed the execution in July 2015.
After a three-year hiatus, a three-judge special bench, headed by the then Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel, heard the appeal.
The hearing lasted for nearly two hours and 45 minutes, during which both the prosecution and defence presented their points of view over the conviction.
Members of civil society, including veteran politician Farhatullah Babar, were in attendance during the proceedings. Unlike previous hearings, a few religious clerics were present inside and outside the courtroom.
During the hearing, the bench had pointed out several discrepancies in the statements of the prosecution and the witnesses.
The apex court's decision to acquit Bibi sparked countrywide demonstrations with protesters, led by Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), threatening the state, army and judiciary.
In November, petitioner Qari Muhammad Saalam filed a review petition in the Supreme Court's Lahore registry through his counsels Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry and Azhar Siddique.
He also sought to put Bibi's name on the Exit Control List (ECL) till the final decision on the review petition.
Highlighting inordinate delay, defective investigation and other technicalities in the review petition, he asked whether these should be made hurdles in dispensation of justice although the SC was bound to take into consideration the nature of the case and the test which were especially applicable to a normal case in view of the application of blasphemy laws read with judgements of the superior courts.
The review petition 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".
It has also asked whether the court was bound to take into consideration "the nature of the case" and consider all the technical faults in it — especially the inordinate delay in the filing of the First Information Report, the defective investigation — and let them become "a hurdle in the dispensation of justice, in view of the application of blasphemy laws read with judgments of the superior courts".
It has further asked that a member of the Appellate Shariat Court be included in the bench that reviews the judgement "because this matter needs detailed in-depth consideration and due to the peculiar circumstances of the case as well as Application of Section 295-C in its time letter and spirit".
It has also challenged the Supreme Court's dismissal of the alleged "confession" that Bibi was forced to make by the people of her village and argued that the Supreme Court should have applied the law of evidence differently in this case.
The petitioner also asked whether the country's top court had jurisdiction to overrule a peculiar fact like the confessional statement of Bibi.
Pointing out the shortcomings, Salaam, in his petition, asked whether the SC, acquitting Bibi, met the standards of jurisprudence set in this regard in view of the history as well as Islamic provisions and normal principle of justice with reference to application in blasphemy laws.
The petition also sought if SC had taken into consideration inclusion of members of the Appellate Shariat Court in its bench, adding that the matter needed detailed in-depth consideration and due to the peculiar circumstances of the case as well as application of Section 295-C in its time letter and spirit.
The complainant said the SC did not interpret the provisions of Code of Criminal Procedure 1898 read with Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code as well as Article 25 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973 while passing the judgement.
Aasia's daughters in Canada
Both the daughters of Aasia Bibi have gotten asylum in Canada and left the country 10 days ago, sources say.
"They are staying in Otawa, Canada," the sources told The Express Tribune.
Both the girls were staying with their stepmother during Bibi's detention.
One is mentally ill and the second cannot go to school as her mother was in jail.
Sources also informed that Bibi's family's long-standing guardian Joseph Nadeem, who is actually an English translator assisting her in interacting with media-persons and foreigners, has also got asylum in Canada.
Likewise, he along with his wife and four children are now staying in Canada.
Bibi had fallen in love with Ashiq and married him, who was already married and had five children. Now, Bibi and her husband Ashiq are staying in Islamabad.