Pakistani court acquits Muslim cleric in blasphemy case
A Pakistan court acquitted a Muslim cleric who accused a Christian girl of blasphemy before he himself was arrested on similar charges, a lawyer said.
The girl, Rimsha Masih, was arrested in August 2012 for allegedly burning pages containing Koranic verses but the case against her, which drew widespread international condemnation, was quashed.
Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, the cleric who made the allegations, was accused of desecrating the Koran and tampering with the evidence against Rimsha.
But his lawyer, Wajid Ali Gilani, told AFP: “The court has dismissed all charges against Khalid Chishti and has acquitted him in this case.”
Gilani said the prosecution had failed to prove the charges while all the witnesses had withdrawn their accusations.
Rimsha, who lived in a poor, run-down neighbourhood on the edge of Islamabad, spent three weeks on remand in one of Pakistan’s toughest jails and could have faced life in prison if she had been convicted.
She and her family were forced into hiding, living under government protection in fear of their lives. Rimsha is now in Canada.
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim, and insulting the Prophet Mohammed can be punished by death under the country’s penal code.
Even unproven allegations can provoke a violent public response.
Local media previously said Rimsha was as young as 11, but an official medical report classified her as “uneducated” and 14 years old, but with a mental age younger than that.
Pakistani Christian leaders last year paid tribute to Muslim clerics, members of the media and civil society for highlighting the injustice done to Rimsha.
In 2011, politicians Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were assassinated for demanding that the blasphemy law be reformed.
Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, remains in prison after being sentenced to death in November 2010 after other women claimed she made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]