SC orders the state to take ‘utmost care’ in blasphemy cases

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Monitoring Desk

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC), in a detailed judgement, asked the concerned state functionaries on Thursday to exercise “utmost care” while dealing with blasphemy cases.

The ruling by the supreme court concerned a Christian sanitation worker who had been imprisoned since last year and had been granted bail.

Salamat Mansha Masih, a sweeper for the Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) who had been charged with blasphemy, appeared before a division bench of the supreme court made up of Justice Isa and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah to request post-arrest bail.

Justice Qazi Faez Isa wrote in a nine-page ruling that “unfortunately, such cases gain broad exposure which has a detrimental effect and may even jeopardise a fair trial.”

The judgement expressed doubts about the “serious” character of “offences pertaining to religion,” saying that “irresponsible and sensational broadcasts and publications repeat what the accused had allegedly said or done; those repeating this may themselves be committing the same offence.”

It stated, “A section 295-C offence stipulates only penalty by death, thus, utmost care must be used by all parties involved to ensure no unfairness in the administration of justice takes place.”

The court’s decision also noted that “many times false claims are levied to settle personal scores and cases are also launched for malicious purposes or on account of ulterior intentions.”

In addition, Justice Isa warned that “righteous zeal, moral outrage, and/or indignation” could “guide” the prosecution away from the “general standard of proof” and asked the government to “act with meticulosity and rigorously investigate the alleged offence” in such cases.

The court added that when there is only the improbable oral testimony of witnesses, there must be corroboration in accordance with Islamic jurisprudential principles, the constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial and due process, and acting prudently to prevent an innocent person from being wrongfully convicted of offences related to religion.

According to the court, in such situations, if a private complainant shows “too keen an interest, it may impair his credibility and may be indicative of mischief or an ulterior motive” and that “in quite a few cases, it has been noted that complainants grandstand and are joined in by others who try to pressurise the prosecution and the Courts,”

In the current case, the court noted that the complainant, a student, travelled from Lahore to Islamabad to oppose the SC’s bail petition when “he had no need to do so because the State and its law officers would be handling the case.”

The ruling further stated that “an accused person’s fundamental right to a fair trial and due process must also be maintained, and much more so in circumstances when severe sentences are mandated.” But the SC also noted that “there have been occasions where tempers were aroused and enflamed by provocateurs, and a mob was gathered and outraged to take matters into its own hands, to harm and even kill the accused, before he was even found guilty.”

The court judgement noted that “the law bans taking the law into one’s own hands, much less using it to harm or kill,” and that “this protection is likewise completely applicable to one who may be guilty.”

The court further highlighted that Islamic law views “offences pertaining to religion to be transgressions against God” and noted that “to establish the guilt of an accused in a hadd offence” the “highest degree of proof is required [and] any uncertainty exonerates the accused.”

Even if someone has been found guilty and given a death sentence in Islamic law, the sentence cannot be carried out by someone who is not authorised to do so; if this person kills the convict, he or she will be held accountable for the crime of iftiyat (wasting the right of the State) and will be punished.

According to the verdict, the prosecution’s case against the petitioner (accused) is supported by the statements of four friends. “We have looked at their testimony, which begins by asserting that the petitioner’s co-accused provided the Zindagi Ka Pani book and that both accused deliberately began preaching Christianity.”

The basic right to profess, practise, and promote religion, according to the court, means that preaching Christianity “is not a crime nor can it be transformed into one.”

The SC further instructed that copies of the order be given to the provincial and capital prosecution offices in order to “ensure that the investigation of offences connected to religion, under Chapter XV of the Pakistan Penal Code, be undertaken in line with the law and the Constitution.”

Saif ul Malook, a well-known attorney who has successfully defended clients in blasphemy cases including that of Asia Bibi, applauded the decision and declared that “Justice Isa has for the first time stated the actual spirit of blasphemy laws since their adoption in the Constitution in 1985.”

The complainant’s journey from Lahore to Islamabad, according to the court’s remark, casts doubt on the case because the state is now the prosecution, which is the correct reading of the law, he continued. “The crux of the history of blasphemy prosecutions is the personal interest of complainant casting doubt on the claims.”

Malook claimed that Justice Isa had shown to the west a more positive aspect of the Islamic judicial system. If the law is established as required by articles 189 and 190 of the Constitution, the lawyer predicted with hope that “soon false allegations shall come to an end.”