A cursory view of the cases discussed here, may suggest that they are two discrete cases. They couldn’t have much in common. Or could they?
The case of George Pell has attracted a huge interest not just in this country, but around the world. For those seriously interested in facts and evidence, there has been a great deal of information available through various sources: media accounts and reports, discussions, analysis, legal documents, judgements and court records. For those serious about the truth, all that research and analysis has led to one verdict.
Back in August 2019, the sane sections of the world were convinced that the decision from the Court of Appeal would be a unanimous one of acquittal. After all, these were judges of the Supreme Court of Victoria. They would be ruling by the law, by facts, by evidence. They were not a panel of lay jury who do not need to justify their Yea or Nay. But, it did not work out that way. The majority dismissed the appeal.
The case is now before the High Court, the highest court in the Australian judicial system. It is the final chance for Pell to have his conviction overturned. The case is scheduled for a hearing in March.
In the meantime, let’s take a look at another case. A case in Pakistan, a country with a population of over 200 million. Around 96% are Muslims.
This is the case of Asia Bibi, a poor Christian farm labourer, who was convicted for blasphemy in 2010 under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, for allegedly uttering derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad. The offence carries mandatory death penalty under the law.
She was tried and found guilty by the mob. Anyone who dared to speak out in support of Bibi, put their own lives in danger.
- Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer, appealed to the government for her release, and promised to reform the blasphemy law. A few weeks later, he was murdered by his own security guard, who shot him repeatedly, at close range, in the middle of a shopping centre.
- Pakistan’s Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a fellow Christian, had supported Bibi, and had also urged reforming the blasphemy law. He was assassinated on his way to work, hit by a hail of bullets as he sat in his car.
- Human rights lawyer Saif-ul-Malook, heard of Bibi’s plight and took on her case. After her acquittal in 2018, Malook had to flee the country after receiving death threats. (He has since returned, but even now, he and his family are under police protection.)
While Asia Bibi sat in prison, the case worked its way through the lower courts, and finally landed at the door of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of Pakistan is the highest appellate court of the country and court of last resort. It is the final arbiter of the law and the Constitution. 
Despite the risk to their safety and their lives, the judges of the Supreme Court studied the case, and pronounced their judgement based on the law and facts and evidence. A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel overturned the death sentence of Bibi in October 2018. They acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, in a Muslim-majority country.
Justice Nisar was due to retire in January . There was speculation he could have delayed the announcement of the verdict, until after his retirement. Instead, he went ahead and took the deliberate risk of becoming a target of the vigilante groups. 
The 56-page verdict written by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar highlighted the following: 
“It is a well settled principle of law that one who makes an assertion has to prove it. Thus, the onus rests on the prosecution to prove guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt throughout the trial…
“Presumption of innocence remains throughout the case until such time the prosecution on the evidence satisfies the court beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the offence alleged against him.
“[…] The expression ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ is of fundamental importance to the criminal justice: it is one of the principles which seeks to ensure that no innocent person is convicted.
“Keeping in mind the evidence produced by the prosecution against the alleged blasphemy committed by the appellant, the prosecution has categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.”
“It is ironical that in the Arabic language the appellant’s name Asia means ‘sinful’,” reads the judgment written by Justice Asif Khosa, “but in the circumstances of the present case she appears to be a person, in the words of Shakespeare’s King Lear, ‘more sinned against than sinning’.” 
For anti-blasphemy leaders, Asia Bibi’s case offered the court a chance to make up for [the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed killer of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer] by letting her hang too. Apart from offering a quid pro quo, this would have turned Asia Bibi into a legally sanctioned example of what would happen when someone is accused of blasphemy the next time.  Justice Khosa (who had headed the bench in the case of Qadri’s death sentence) ran a greater risk, but had decided not to set this questionable precedent.
This rather telling summation of the verdict was made in DAWN  (emphasis added):
The Supreme Court’s judgement — a seismic event in the country’s history, judicial or otherwise — heavily referenced Islamic teachings and tradition, but ultimately relied on an assessment of facts and evidence to support the overturning of the earlier conviction.
Asia Bibi was finally able to leave Pakistan in May 2019, after being granted asylum in Canada, where she lives in a secret location.
Back to George Pell, and the final verdict from the High Court expected next month. The evidence, at the most basic level, suggests doubt of his guilt on the charges for which he has been convicted. A closer scrutiny of the evidence, would suggest his innocence. Either way, based on the premise: beyond a reasonable doubt, he should be acquitted.
The alternative—not just of Pell dying in prison as a guilty man, but the death of justice in this country—is too terrifying to contemplate.
For both the Bibi and Pell cases:
- An acquittal does not result in true freedom: the baying mobs are out there. So, the innocent have to be moved to secret locations for safety reasons.
- The accused, in both cases, are Christians.
One, a citizen in a Muslim-majority country in the East, with its roots in Islamic law.
The other, a citizen in what used to be a Christian-majority country in the West, with its roots in the Judaeo-Christian traditions.
- There is a corruption in the system, that has permitted such cases (baseless allegations of blasphemy and sexual abuse) to end up in the courts.
Who is going to dig up the dirt, so that the rot is removed to prevent these recurrences? Will there be penalties for falsehoods, false witnesses and their enablers?
Asia Bibi has been acquitted after spending several years in prison, for a crime she didn’t commit. After the case went through its legal processes, the judges of the highest court in Pakistan assessed facts and evidence to make their final judgement.
We can only hope that Lady Justice will do the same for George Pell.