After languishing in jail for 18 years for charges under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, a death-row convict was finally acquitted by the country’s top court due to lack of evidence.
A three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, on Wednesday exonerated Wajih-ul-Hassan, lodged in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpath jail, from the blasphemy charges, the Dawn reported.
A case was registered against Hassan in 1999 for writing blasphemous letters to a lawyer. In 2001, a handwriting expert in his report said that the writing of the accused closely matched with the letters in question, following which a Lahore court convicted Hassan and awarded him death sentence. The decision was later maintained by the Lahore High Court as well.
Under Pakistan’s penal code, the offence of blasphemy is punishable by death or life imprisonment.
In its judgement on Wednesday, the Supreme Court observed that the prosecution has failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the letters, which became the basis of blasphemy allegations against Hassan, were actually written by him, and consequently rejected the case.
The apex court also noted that there was no direct witness in the case.
Last year, the apex court had acquitted Aasia Bibi, the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, in a high-profile sacrilege case that polarised the society.
While deciding the case of the Christian woman, the Supreme Court had held that it was not for individuals or a gathering (mob) to decide whether any act falling within the purview of blasphemy had been committed or not. It is the court’s mandate to make such decisions after conducting a fully qualified trial on the basis of credible evidence.
Blasphemy is considered a sensitive topic in Pakistan and those accused of it often languish in jails for years.
Although the state has never executed anyone for the offence, at least 65 people have been murdered in the country by mob over blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to Pakistan-based think-tank Centre for Research and Security Studies.