Pakistani court ACQUITS Christian girl with learning difficulties who was accused of burning the Koran
- Rimsha Masih, 11, faced the death penalty under strict blasphemy rules
- Her Muslim cleric accuser faces charges of fabricating evidence
PUBLISHED:08:30 EST, 20 November 2012| UPDATED: 11:32 EST, 20 November 2012
A Christian girl accused of blasphemy over the burning of the Koran has been acquitted by a Pakistani court, her lawyer said.
Rimsha Masih, 11, faced the death penalty after being arrested in Islamabad in August when her neighbour Mohammed Khalid Chishti, a Muslim cleric, accused her of desecrating the holy book.
The cleric was later accused of ‘framing’ Masih by fabricating evidence in a case that went to the highest levels of the Pakistani government and sparked international outrage at the country’s strict blasphemy laws.
Acquitted: Christian Rimsha Masih, 11 (pictured left), had been accused of burning page of the Koran by her Muslim cleric neighbour Mohammed Khalid Chishti (right), who now faces charges of fabricating evidence
Attorney Abdul Hameed said a court in Islamabad dismissed all the charges against Masih on Tuesday, concluding they were based on heresy and incriminated material that was planted in the girl’s possession.
‘I am happy that the poor girl’s ordeal is now over,’ Hameed said.
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Masih was released on bail in September but was flown by helicopter to an unknown location.
There were fears Masih and other Christians in her neighbourhood could be in danger if she remained there.
In Pakistan, the mere allegation of causing offence to Islam can mean death, with some killed even if they are found innocent by the courts.
However, this was a rare occasion when senior Islamic clerics intervened to oppose the charges levelled at her.
Sympathy for the girl has been heightened by unsubstantiated claims that she is mentally impaired and has Down’s Syndrome.
She was accused of carrying charred pages from the Koran near her house in a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Islamabad.
In an extraordinary development, however, three officers from the local mosque accused Chishti of planting the pages among the charred refuse Masih had been carrying to strengthen the case against her.
Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, another of the girl’s lawyers, said the testimony of a local police officer, who told a court there was no evidence against her, had proved crucial in securing her acquittal.
The officer had appeared to ‘arrest’ Masih in mid-August to protect her from protests by the majority Muslim community in the Mehrabad district.
Chaudhry went on to demand changes to Pakistan’s religious laws, which were strengthened during the hardline conservative rule of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s.
‘It is very difficult to change these laws in Pakistan,’ he said. ‘But this judgement will set a precedent so that other cases can be properly investigated and pursued.’
Concerns remains over the safety of Masih, who is unlikely to return to Mehrabad because of continuing support among many for Chishti.
‘While I’m thrilled to hear the charges have been quashed, my foremost concern at the moment is her safety,’ said Tahira Abdullah, a rights activist in Islamabad.
‘Others have been acquitted before but they have not lived to tell the tale.’
Many Christians moved out of the area during protests in the weeks after her arrest.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2235743/Pakistani-court-Islamabad-acquits-Christian-girl-Rimsha-Masih-learning-difficulties-accused-burning-Koran.html#ixzz2Cphp0t42
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