Aasia Bibi Is Free But A Major Course Correction Is In Order
Christian woman Aasia Bibi who was accused of blasphemy and spent 8 years in prison will finally walk free as the review petition against her acquittal was set aside by the Supreme Court (SC). The judgement is being welcomed by rights activists, but it is unclear as to whether there would be some action against those who falsely accused her of blasphemy and gave false testimonies to mislead the court and public.
The apex court’s bench issued some significant remarks while grilling the petitioner’s lawyer. Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa rebuked the witnesses for lying under oath, and added that they would have been jailed for life if the case wasn’t so sensitive.
Qari Saleem, a local religious cleric who was the main complainant against Aasia Bibi, lied after taking oath on the Holy Quran, as a result of which the innocent woman languished in jail for eight years for a crime she had not committed.
CJ Khosa observed that the main point is that the charges against her were never proven. He also criticized leaders of Tehreek-e-Labbak (TLP) for issuing fatwas (religious decrees) against judges over Aasia Bibi’s acquittal. The CJ also lamented that the entire country was blocked by the TLP to protest the SC verdict.
The chief justice’s remarks have given hope that the issue of misuse of blasphemy law and false testimonies will now be addressed. Blasphemy law is often used to target religious minorities and settle scores. Now that the apex court’s judgement has established that a woman from a minority community had to spend 8 years in jail due to the failure of the justice system to determine the falsity of testimonies, some major course correction may be in order.
Legal analyst Khalid Ranjha says the remarks from the judges in the final hearing of the case have made it clear that the bench was enraged over the false testimonies. “But grilling the petitioner’s lawyer wasn’t enough,” he added.
“It would have been ideal if the SC had sent the case to a trial court to take the false witnesses to task. Alternatively, the prosecution could have done the same. Punishing the false witnesses under the same laws is important because it would set a much-needed precedent”, he said.
Ranjha further said that if Aasia Bibi’s lawyer takes up the issue and files a case against those who falsely accused her of blasphemy, the courts would be morally bound to award a punishment to Aasia’s tormentors.
He further said that victims of blasphemy laws usually refrain from challenging the false accusers even after they’re acquitted, but since the Aasia Bibi case had gained international recognition, it is an opportunity to right a wrong.
“When those charged under blasphemy laws are acquitted they don’t usually take up the issue of false testimonies, but Aasia Bibi case should serve as an opportunity to change course and set a precedent. If all those who misled the court by accusing Aasia Bibi of blasphemy are punished, it would help stop the misuse of blasphemy law”, he concluded.
The author is News Editor at Naya Daur. She writes on counter-terrorism, human rights and freedom of speech among other issues. She tweets at @AiliaZehra and can be reached at [email protected]