ISLAMABAD: The Lahore High Court (LHC) is going to take up on June 3 the appeal of a Christian couple which is convicted for blasphemy and which has been languishing in prison for the last six years.
A division bench led by Justice Shahbaz Ali Rizvi will hear the case.
Interestingly, the same judge – Justice Rizvi – had upheld the death sentence of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman also convicted for blasphemy by a lower court. The Supreme Court in October 2018 set aside the conviction and acquitted Bibi.
Saiful Malook advocate, who had successfully pleaded the case of Bibi in Supreme Court, will represent the couple before the LHC. Malook was offered citizenship by the European Union after Aasia Bibi case judgment but he preferred to return to Pakistan.
An additional district and sessions judge of Toba Tek Singh awarded death sentence to Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Masih on April 4, 2014 under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) read with Section 34. They were also directed to pay Rs100,000 fine each.
Sources said Kausar is kept in the same death cell where Asia Bibi was imprisoned.
According to the complainant, Muhammad Hussain – a resident of Gojra – he received an SMS on July 18, 2013, when he was offering prayers at a mosque. The SMS contained blasphemous remarks. He showed the SMS to his friends – Muhammad Shabbir and Khalid Maqsood.
He approached his counsel for legal proceedings on the basis of the SMS. While sitting in the office of the counsel, he received five more SMS. When the counsel tried to contact the number, he (lawyer) also received three to four SMS on his mobile phone.
The police claimed that both the convicts confessed to committing blasphemy. After the investigation, police submitted a report under Section 173 Code of Criminal procedure (CrPC), declaring that the couple was involved in commission of an offence and would face trial.
On the conclusion of the trial, the couple was convicted and awarded death sentence. Six years ago, the couple had challenged the trial court’s order on many grounds.
Their appeal contended that the witnesses produced by the prosecution during the trial were related to the complainant and were ‘inimical’ towards them. “So their statements required independent corroboration, which is lacking in this case,” the appeal said.
The convicts also claimed that about eight to nine months prior to the case, a minor quarrel took place between their children and those of the neighbours, who developed a grudge against them.
Kausar was working at the Bishop Compound and the copy of her national identity card (CNIC) was available in the record of the compound, where the neighbour was also working.
He succeeded in obtaining the copy of her CNIC and purchased the alleged SIM in her name and later misused that SIM and forwarded the blasphemous SMS to the complainant, who filed a complaint in collusion with their neighbour.
The prosecution, however, claimed that the alleged SIM was purchased by Kausar along with her husband. The convicts denied the charge, saying the husband, Shafqat Masih, is a disabled person since long and could not move or walk.
They contended that there was no evidence that they purchased the SIM from a franchise, adding that the convicts were illiterate persons and could not write the alleged SMS, which was written in English.
The appeal also contended that Section 196 CrPC had not been followed as the FIR was lodged by a private person, who was not the competent authority nor duly authorised by the central or provincial governments. It is also stated that the evidence produced by the prosecution is “discrepant, shaky and not worth reliance”.
The appeal said the trial court did not appreciate the defence version in its true prospective, which resulted in grave miscarriage of justice. “The learned judge has based his judgement on surmises and conjectures instead of solid evidence,” it adds.