Use of Islamic principles to acquit Pakistani Christian woman accused of blasphemy

Use of Islamic principles to acquit Pakistani Christian woman accused of blasphemy

By P.K.Balachandran

Colombo, November 3 (Daily FT/newsin.asia): Pakistan’s Supreme Court, its Prime  Minister Imran Khan, and lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook, have all used Islamic principles to buttress their arguments in the Asia Bibi blasphemy case and in handling the violence which was unleashed by Islamic radicals after her acquittal.

The panel of three Supreme Court judges ruled that Asia, a Christian mother of five, was “wrongly” accused by two sisters with the help of a local cleric, based on “material contradictions and inconsistent statements of the witnesses, which cast a shadow of doubt on the prosecution’s version of facts.”

The ruling further said that the alleged extra-judicial “confession” was not voluntary but rather resulted out of coercion and undue pressure as the appellant was forcibly brought before the complainant in the presence of a gathering, who were threatening to kill her.

“As such, it cannot be made the basis of a conviction. Therefore, the appellant being innocent deserves acquittal,” the judges said.

While acknowledging that blasphemy is a “serious offense” in Islam, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa wrote that “the insult of the appellant’s religion (Christianity) 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) were also not short of being blasphemous.”

Justice Khosa observed that it was possible that the blasphemous words that Asia Bibi was accused of uttering, were actually made up by the lawyer who drafted the complaint against her.

The judge also stated that the witnesses and the complainant had adulterated the truth by removing that part of the incident from their testimony which was not going in their favor.

Coming down strongly on fanatical vigilantism, the bench comprising Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and Justices Khosa and Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel said: “Blasphemy is abhorrent and immoral besides being a manifestation of intolerance, but at the same time a false allegation regarding commission of such an offence is equally detestable besides being culpable.”

“If our religion of Islam comes down heavily upon commission of blasphemy, then Islam is also very tough against those who level false allegations of a crime.”

“It is, therefore, for the State of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to ensure that no innocent person is compelled or constrained to face an investigation or a trial on the basis of false or trumped up allegations regarding commission of such an offence.”

The Chief Justice ended the ruling by citing the following  hadith (saying) of Prophet Muhammad: “Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud).

“All concerned would have certainly done better if they had paid heed to what Almighty Allah has ordained in the Holy Qur’an: “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just, that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is acquainted with what you do.” (Surah Al-Ma’idah: verse 8)

“So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, acquainted.” (Surah An-Nisa: verse 135).

Covenant With Christians

Justice Khosa also criticized Bibi’s accusers for violating a covenant made by Prophet Muhammad with Christian monks on Mount Sinai in 628.

“The promise made was eternal and universal and was not limited to St. Catherine alone,” he wrote. “The rights conferred by the charter are inalienable and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) had declared that Christians, all of them, were his allies and he equated ill treatment of Christians with violating God’s covenant.”

“It is noticeable that the charter imposed no conditions on Christians for enjoying its privileges and it was enough that they were Christians.”

“They were not required to alter their beliefs, they did not have to make any payments and they did not have any obligations. The charter was of rights without any duties and it clearly protected the right to property, freedom of religion, freedom of work and security of person,” Justice Khosa said.

Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan demonstration. Photo: Reuters

Lawyer’s Approach

Asia’s lawyer Saif-ul-Malook, chose to argue her case not under secular law, but under Islamic law.

That tactic forced the witnesses who accused her, to be held to the Islamic standard of eyewitnesses, a much more difficult standard to achieve, notes a Christian publication.

“Saif ul Malook, based his appeal on the argument that the person who brought the case against Bibi, a local cleric, should not have been allowed to do so since he didn’t hear the blasphemy first-hand.”

“In addition, his report was filed five days after the quarrel. In a previous case, judges threw out the death sentence for a defendant because three hours lapsed between the offense and the first report made. The Pakistani law holds that the time lapse smacks of premeditation, according to the American Center for Law and Justice,” the publication added.

Imran Khan’s Stand

Prime Minister Imran Khan said that unleashing violence to win a point; threatening to kill judges who delivered the verdict; questioning the religious affiliation of the army chief and asking soldiers to mutiny; are all repugnant to the Medina principles for good governance, enunciated by the Prophet himself.

Clause 47 of the Medina Charter says that no quarter should be  given to any injustice or wrong-doing. Clause 25 says that freedom is guaranteed to each community to practice its own religion. The Prophet had proclaimed Medina as a sacred sanctuary (haram) where violence of any kind was prohibited.

PM Imran regretted that the people take to violence and political parties should use religion to incite violence when the goal of his government is to rule as per the principles of the Prophet’s Medina Charter.

He warned of stern action against those who hold the country to ransom in the name of religion. The demands of the cleric could hardly be called “Islamic”.

Pakistan Supreme Court Justice Asif Saeed Khosa

Never Say Die Radicals 

However, the never-say-die Islamic radicals led by Tehreek-i-Labbaik (TEL) have been on the rampage after the acquittal. Pakistan’s schools are closed and most roads in Lahore and Karachi are deserted.

The Balochistan Assembly unanimously resolved that the Supreme Court must entertain an appeal on the Asia acquittal.

Responding to the allegation that the army is soft on those who indulge in blasphemy and that this is because the Army Chief is not a Muslim, the Inter-Service Public Relations clarified that it had nothing to  do with the Asia Bibi case. It asked those against the acquittal to go on appeal.

TLP’s patron Pir Afzal Qadri, had earlier demanded that “Any judge who acquits Asia must be killed.”

“Even the state should kill him because he has become an apostate by releasing her. Earlier, based on my fatwah, Iqbal Bhatti (a High Court judge who had released  two 14 year old Christian boys Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih, in 1997 in a frivolous blasphemy charge] was killed by a lion, Ahmed Sher Niazi. Now I give the same fatwah [for these Supreme Court judges],” Qadri said.

This resulted in Taseer’s being gunned down by his own security guard Mumtaz Qadri in January 2011. Later ,the Christian minister in the federal cabinet, Shahbaz Bhatti, was also gunned down by Tehreek-e-Taliban for supporting Bibi and for advocating that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws be amended.

In October 2014, the Lahore High Court upheld the decision of the trial court to send Bibi to the gallows.

The Case

In 2009, while Bibi was working in the fields, she had brought water for her two female co-workers who were sisters. But the co-workers refused to accept water telling her that she was a “Christian”, a community deemed untouchable in rural Pakistan. Hot words were exchanged but there  was no blasphemy, as the Supreme Court found out later.

Accuser Salaam’s lawyer, Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, said that Asia Bibi is a Christian preacher and was doing exactly what the Christians of Spain did against the Muslims hundreds of years ago, namely indulging in blasphemy.

Asia denied that had criticized the prophet, as she too loved him. On the charge that she was a Christian preacher she said that she was illiterate and could not be one.

Saif ul Malook, Asia Bibi’s lawyer

Asia’s Lawyer to flee

Asia’s lawyer, Saif ul Malook, told the media  that is will be leaving Pakistan for the time being. He will come back when the Supreme Court takes up the appeal against her acquittal, which given the pressure from radical Islamists will be entertained by the Supreme Court.

That will put the judges of the court and the fledgling government of Imran Khan in deep trouble. Any crisis that might follow will have to be resolved by the army.

(The featured image at the top shows Asia Bibi and Christian demonstrators) 

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