After being in jail for over 18 years for charges under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws, a death-row convict was finally acquitted by the country's Supreme Court due to lack of evidence.
A three-judge Supreme Court bench in Pakistan, headed by Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, on Wednesday released Wajih-ul-Hassan, lodged in Lahore's Kot Lakhpath jail, from the blasphemy charges, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported.
A case was registered against Mr 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. Based on this, a court in Lahore convicted Mr 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, Pakistan's Supreme Court observed that the prosecution has failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the letters, which became the basis of blasphemy allegations against Mr Hassan, were actually written by him, and consequently rejected the case.
Pakistan's top court also noted that there was no direct witness in the case.
Last year, Pakistan's Supreme 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.
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 top 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 spend long years of their life in jails.
Although the state has never executed anyone for the offence, at least 65 people have been murdered in Pakistan by mobs over blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to Pakistan-based think-tank Centre for Research and Security Studies.
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