Cleric accused of producing false evidence against Rimsha Masih, charged with "blasphemy"
By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A Muslim cleric charged with fabricating evidence to make it appear that a Christian girl desecrated the Koran - and incurring charges of desecrating the Koran himself - has been granted bail.
Rimsha Masih mug shot
According to a story published in the Morning Star News, while Christians accused of blaspheming Islam in Pakistan routinely spend years languishing in jails, Islamabad Session Judge Raja Jawwad Abbas on Oct. 11 granted bail to Khalid Jadoon Chishti, leader of a mosque in the Meherabadi suburb of Islamabad. The bail came less than six weeks after his arrest.
The Morning Star News said he was granted bail for 200,000 rupees (US$2,065) after witnesses on Oct. 1 retracted statements that he added burnt pages of the Koran to a bag of ashes carried by Rimsha Masih, the Christian girl originally charged with desecrating the Koran.
The Morning Star News reported that Rimsha's lawyer, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, said the backtracking of the witnesses would not harm chances of acquittal for Rimsha, who is about 14 but mentally younger than that, according to a recent medical report.
She was originally charged as an adult with desecrating the Koran, punishable by life in prison, but her case has been transferred to a juvenile court.
"Our case is secure," Chaudhry told the Morning Star News. "Rimsha has been declared medically unfit by a government board, and even the police investigation has given her a clean chit. We are nearing complete victory."
The Morning Star News said Jadoon Chishti was arrested on Sept. 1 after Hafiz Mohammad Zubair, a leader at his mosque, testified against him before a magistrate. On Sept. 23, Sub-Inspector Munir Jaffrideclared Rimsha innocent and instead charged Jadoon Chishti with desecrating the Koran.
The Morning Star News said a report submitted by Jaffri stated that Jadoon Chishti had ripped two pages from the Koran and mixed them into half-burnt pages of an Arabic-language, prayer-learning book called the "Noorani Qaida."
The report also stated that Zubair and two other witnesses had claimed that they had seen Jadoon Chishti mixing pages of the Koran into evidence to strengthen a case against Rimsha, and that there was no evidence or any eyewitness who claimed to have seen the girl burning the Islamic texts.
According to the Morning Star News, Zubair stated that he was sitting in meditation in the mosque in front of Rimsha's house when he saw Malik Hammad, a neighbor of the girl and the complainant in the case, bring the burnt pages of the Koran to Jadoon Chishti. He then included them in the evidence against the girl
Zubair said he had tried to stop Jadoon Chishti, and insisted that only the original materials taken as evidence against Rimsha be brought to police.
The Morning Star News said the two other witnesses, Khurram Shahzad and Hafiz Mohammad Owais, had also stated to Jaffri that Hammad had brought to the mosque a plastic bag filled with ashes and burnt papers and handed it to them. Shahzad was offering prayers while Owais was in meditative seclusion. However, they said Hammad later took the bag from them and handed it to Jadoon Chishti, and that he later tore some pages from the Koran and put them into it.
They reportedly said they objected to the what was going on, but that Jadoon Chishti replied, "This will strengthen a case. Now is a good time to get rid of the Christians of this area."
Later they brought the matter in the attention of Zubair, who unsuccessfully objected, according to Jaffri's report.
The Morning Star News said Jadoon Chishti's defense has benefitted from the vigorous efforts of a large group of lawyers who were actively involved in defending Mumtaz Qadri. He is the self-confessed assassin of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab who voiced support for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five unjustly convicted of blaspheming Islam.
The Morning Star News said Jadoon Chishti was actively involved in conspiring against Christians of Meherabadi, besides once forcibly stopping them from playing musical instruments during worship, sources said.
According to the Morning Star News, the three witnesses who recanted said they were tortured into making the statements incriminating Jadoon Chishti.
Pakistan is nearly 96 percent Muslim, according to Operation World, and religiously charged court cases commonly involve clamoring crowds of Muslims and other pressures coming to bear on lawyers and judges. Christians make up 2.45 percent of the population.
The Morning Star News said the additional district and sessions court of Islamabad granted bail to Rimsha on Sept. 7. The next day she was airlifted from Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi to an unspecified location within Islamabad under the protective custody of police.
The girl's arrest under Pakistan's widely condemned blasphemy laws had triggered an exodus of several hundred Christians from her poor neighborhood on the edge of the federal capital, Islamabad.
The Morning Star News said Chaudhry, the main lawyer for Rimsha, said his team was prepared to ask the judge to drop all charges against the girl.
"God willing, the case against Rimsha will be dropped at the court hearing on Oct. 17," the Morning Star News reported he said confidently.
The Morning Star News reported that Chaudhry said Rimsha and her family were safe at a secret location.
"People accused of blasphemy are seldom able to settle in the same area even after being acquitted of the charge or having served the sentence - this family will have to be relocated," he said, adding that Rimsha's father, Mizrek Masih, did not wish to go abroad.
Most of the other Christian residents of the area have returned, while others have relocated to Islamabad and its twin city of Rawalpindi, Chaudhry said.