- (Photo: Reuters/Stringer)
The 14-year-old Pakistani Christian girl who was charged with committing blasphemy against Islam has been acquitted, after an Islamabad court found evidence that a Muslim cleric who accused her of tearing up pages from the Quran may have been the one to plant the evidence.
The girl, known as Rimsha Masih and said to have mental difficulties, was arrested in August after she was accused of burning pages from the Quran, the Muslim holy book. Such an offense is recognized as blasphemy in Pakistan, which has a 97 percent Islamic population. Blasphemy is punishable by imprisonment and in some cases even death.
Rimsha was released on bail in September, but only now where the charges against her dropped, with the court saying that the accusations were "based on heresy and incriminated material that was planted in the girl's possession," according to defense lawyer Abdul Hameed.
Rimsha's case sparked global outrage with many in the international community asking how a 14-year-old girl could be imprisoned, and the U.N. calling on Pakistan to consider changing its strict blasphemy laws.
"Blasphemy laws unjustly presume guilt. This girl should not have been let out on bail, but rather on the principle of justice that she be treated as innocent until proven guilty," Tina Ramirez, director of International and Government Relations at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, previously told The Christian Post.
"These laws are destroying the foundation of religious freedom for all envisioned by Pakistan's founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and unless they are repealed once and for all, they will forever overshadow the dignity Pakistanis deserve to live under,"' Ramirez added.
Authorities in Pakistan have said that Rimsha will continue receiving protection when she returns to her poor neighborhood in Islamabad, as there have been reports that her neighbors are still angry for what they believe was an insult to the Quran.
"We saw what happened. We know she's guilty but the court has let her off," one unnamed Muslim man is said to have shared with BBC News.
Human rights activist Tahira Abdullah said that the girl and her family will need all the protection they can get.
"They will never be able to go back to their community. They will never be able to go back to their city. Her immediate family may not ever be able to visit their extended family because someone may be lying in wait for them and I am afraid for her life," he said.
Prosecutors still have the right to appeal the decision before Pakistan's Supreme Court, but it was not immediately known if they will take the case that far.
Another human rights campaigner, Xavier P. William, said that even though the case highlights the harsh laws in the South Asian country, many who are accused of blasphemy don't have the fortune to be released from prison.
"In Pakistan, even being accused of blasphemy is equivalent to being sentenced," William told BBC News. "This is the irony that justice comes only under international pressure. The lower courts have completely surrendered to extremists' pressure because of the state's inability to protect them."