Pakistani teen Christian declared 'innocent' of blasphemy by police, but case still continues


Date:  2012-09-24

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- The strange case of Rimsha Masih, the 14-year-old Christian Pakistani girl who had faced life in prison for allegedly burning the Koran, but then police declared that she was "innocent", took another twist today, when surprisingly her case was not dismissed, but instead she will have her case now heard in a juvenile court.

Rimsha Masih

A local court today (Monday, September 24, 2012), ordered the transfer of her case to juvenile court according to the girl's lawyer, Tahir Naveed Choudhry.

Pakistani police had told CNN that their investigation concluded Rimsha Masih is innocent and was framed by an Imam (Muslim leader).

"There was no legal evidence against Rimsha," officer Munir Jafri told CNN.

Rimsha, a Christian, believed to be around 14 years of age and reportedly suffering from some mental disability, was allegedly seen burning pages inscribed with Koranic verses, last month.

The news of the desecration spread like wild fire, following which furious locals attacked Rimsha and her mother. The police later arrested Rimsha on August 16 on the demand of the locals. Rimsha languished in judicial custody for weeks, after which she was released and transferred by helicopter to an undisclosed location, which some believe was to Norway.

The original case took a turn when a witness said in his statement before the police that Khalid Jadoon Chishti, a local Imam, had added some burnt pages of the Holy Koran to execute his plan to expel the Christian community from the locality, police sources said.

He has now been charged and many expected that at the court today, Rimsha would be granted her freedom and the case be dismissed.

Attending the court proceedings for ANS, Shamim Masih, a freelance journalist and a human rights activist, said that Pakistani Judge Ghulam Abbas Shah on Monday rejected the district administration's request to hold the hearing on the Rimsha case in jail and ordered the police to submit a charge sheet in the special court in accordance with the juvenile laws.

"Earlier, the Investigating officer, Munir Jafri, declared her innocent and said in his investigation he could not find any evidence against Rimsha who was accused of burning pages from Koran in a case which sparked an international hue and cry," said Mr. Masih.

"In the proceedings today, the district attorney had submitted his application blaming the investigation officer of threatening him while, in his defense, he presented his side of the situation.

Police escort blindfolded Muslim cleric Khalid Jadoon Chishti as he is brought before a judge at a court in Islamabad September 2, 2012.
(Photo: Faisal Mahmood/Reuters)

"The court has passed the matter of animosity over the charge sheet between the investigating officer and the district attorney to the relevant court."

Mr. Masih said that judge also ordered Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) to investigate the matter and submit his report before the next date.

The court adjourned the case until Monday, October 1, 2012, and ordered that Rimsha be brought to the court.

Shortly after the girl was granted bail, she gave her first interview to CNN, and in it Rimsha, speaking from an undisclosed location, expressed fear for her life, but said she was happy to be back with her family.

"I'm scared," she said by phone. "I'm afraid of anyone who might kill us."

The teen spoke, said a CNN reporter, in short sentences, answering "yes" or "no" in a shy and nervous voice.

Although Rimsha was not acquitted today, many inside Pakistan believer will not be long before she is.

"This is a precursor to the case ending, and that is quite unprecedented in the 25-year history of Pakistan's blasphemy laws," said Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director of Human Rights Watch, while speaking to CNN.

Police have submitted the findings to the court. Pakistan courts usually go with what police recommend.

There is a lot of evidence implicating Imam Khalid Jadoon Chishti for framing the teenager and for himself tearing pages out of the holy book, Jafri told CNN

This is significant, said Human Rights Watch's Hasan, because "never before has a false accuser been held accountable."

The teen's case sparked international outcry against the Pakistani government, some saying the blasphemy laws are used to settle scores and persecute religious minorities.

Blasphemy laws have been a part of life in Pakistan for 25 years, first instituted primarily to keep peace between religions, Hasan said.

But a military leader in Pakistan in the middle 1980s tightened the laws, introducing amendments that "essentially made blasphemy a capital offense," Hasan said.

"They were vaguely worded ... and became an instrument of coercion and persecution," he said. "The laws were disproportionately used against the weakest and most vulnerable in society -- religious minorities, women, children and the poor."

According to a CNN story, there have been 1,400 blasphemy cases since 1986, according to Hasan. There are more than 15 cases of people on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, and 52 have been killed while facing trial for the charge, Hasan said.

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