December 9th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
A man, sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of blasphemy, was acquitted by the Lahore High Court after spending 11 years in jail.
Liaquat Ali, resident of Nankana, was convicted on blasphemy charges by a local trial court in November, 2013. The state counsel and other lawyers had refused to plead his case in the trial court.
He had filed an appeal in the LHC through the superintendent of the Sheikhupura District Jail in 2013. The LHC took up his appeal this year and appointed Shabbir Ahmad Bodla as his state counsel.
According to court documents, the complainant in the case, Abdul Ghani said that he had been selling sweetmeats on his pushcart in Mohallah Ghausia Panwan when he heard a woman shout from inside of a house that a copy of the Holy Quran was being burnt on January 12, 2009.
According to the complainant, he along with his brothers and other residents entered the house and saw accused Liaquat Ali burning the Holy Quran on a gas stove. The accused attacked them with a stick and injured them when they tried to stop him.
According to Shabbir Ahmad Bodla, Liaquat Ali had told police he had beaten up Abdul Ghani when he saw him in a compromising state with his mother in their house. “Police did not investigate Liaquat’s claims and his mother was also not brought as a prosecution witness in the court,” Bodla told Voicepk.net.
In his arguments, Bodla said, he pleaded that no proper assistance was provided to the trial court. As his client had no counsel in the trial court, some prosecution witnesses could also not be cross-examined.
“The complainant said he entered the house upon hearing the voice of my client’s mother but she was not summoned to record her statement in the trial court,” Bodla said.
It was said that the first man had entered the house after hearing the voice from inside, but the court questioned how the other men ended up on the spot.
Similarly, there was no evidence provided to establish that the ashes recovered from the house were of a burnt holy manuscript or not as claimed, Bodla added.
Observing that there were loopholes in the case, the state counsel said, the court allowed his client’s appeal and set aside the decision of the trial court on December 8. The counsel said Liaquat Ali would be released from Sheikhupura jail after the completion of legal formalities within a week.
In June, the LHC set aside the 2013 conviction of a Christian couple Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel who was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges.
According to a report from the Centre of Social Justice, 1,855 people have been charged with offences relating to blasphemy laws in the country between 1987 and 2020.
In a 2015 paper on implementation of blasphemy laws in Pakistan, the International Commission of Jurists noted that in more than 80 percent of reported cases, those accused of blasphemy are eventually acquitted on appeal, with judges expressly stating in a large majority of such cases that the complaint was fabricated and spurred on by personal vendettas. The ICJ findings were based on the analysis of over one hundred reported judicial decisions as well as a dozen unreported cases from sessions courts and high courts on blasphemy-related offences under the Pakistan Penal Code from 1982 to 2015.