LHC acquits Christian couple in blasphemy case after 8 years in jail

A lower court in Toba Tek Singh had handed down the death penalty in 2014


Hasnaat Malik June 03, 2021
Blasphemy laws continue to be misused, by those who are unafraid of ever being punished for their fake claims. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

ISLAMABAD:

After eight years of imprisonment, the Lahore High Court on Thursday acquitted a death row married Christian couple convicted for committing blasphemy over lack of evidence.

An additional district and sessions judge in Toba Tek Singh had awarded the 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 for sending blasphemous messages on phone.

They were also directed to pay a fine of Rs100,000 each.

Also read: Blasphemy law: EU Parliament’s decision to review GSP+ status irks Pakistan

An LHC division bench comprising Justice Shahbaz Ali Rizvi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh heard the case for three straight days. The bench allowed the appeal as the prosecution had failed to establish the case against the Christian couple beyond doubt.
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 Aasia.

Saiful Malook, the lawyer who had successfully pleaded the case of Aasia in the Supreme Court, represented the couple in the LHC.

Malook was offered citizenship by the European Union after the judgment in Aasia's case but he preferred to return to Pakistan.

It has been learnt that EU officials had urged the Foreign Office to take care of Malook’s security.

The complainant was represented by Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry. The written order will be issued later.

During the hearing, Malook raised several objections on the confessional statement of one convict.

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 lawyer for legal proceedings on the basis of the SMS.

While sitting in the office of the lawyer, he received five more SMSes. When the lawyer tried to call back on the number, he too received three to four SMSes on his mobile phone.

Police claimed that the couple confessed to “committing blasphemy”. After the investigation, the 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 handed down the capital sentence.
Seven 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 read.

The couple 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 was available in the record of the compound, where the neighbour was also working.

The neighbour succeeded in obtaining a copy of her CNIC. He allegedly purchased a SIM in her name and later misused it to forward the blasphemous SMS to the complainant, who filed a complaint in collusion with the neighbour.

The prosecution, however, claimed that the SIM was purchased by Kausar along with her husband. However, she denied the claim, saying that her husband, Shafqat Masih, was disabled for a long time and could not move or walk.

The couple maintained that there was no evidence that they purchased the SIM from a franchise.

They added that they were illiterate and could not fill the application for the SMS that was written in English.

The appeal also contended that Section 196 of the 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 was “discrepant, shaky and not worth reliance”.

The appeal read that 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 added.

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