Muslim Cleric Framed Christian Girl in Pakistan's Blasphemy Case, Police Say

A court in Pakistan has sent a Muslim cleric to 14 days in custody after he was accused of tampering with evidence to frame a minor Christian girl, believed to be mentally disabled, in a "blasphemy" case and thereby expel all area Christians.

Even as Rimsha Masih, who was arrested from the Mehria Jaffar area on the outskirts of Islamabad on Aug. 16, remains in Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, a witness told a court in the national capital on Sunday that the cleric, identified as Imam Khalid Jadoon, planted evidence against the girl, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported.

The witness, identified as cleric's deputy Hafiz Muhammad Zubair, said he and two others saw the cleric adding pages carrying Quranic verses to ashes that the complainant, Ammad, handed to him as evidence against the girl.

Rishma was accused of burning a Noorani Qaida, a booklet used to learn the basics of the Holy Quran. It was also alleged that she had thrown the booklet in the garbage after putting it in a plastic bag.

According to police investigator Munir Hussain Jaffri, the three witnesses urged the cleric not to interfere with the papers. But the cleric told them, "You know this is the only way to expel the Christians from this area."

However, the cleric told reporters outside the courtroom on Sunday he did not fabricate evidence, and that it was a conspiracy of the government against him.

Despite the cleric's arrest, the court seems reluctant to release the young Christian girl on bail, apparently as her life could be in danger if she is set free. Her accuser had threatened extra-judicial action if the girl was not convicted.

Relatives and human rights workers argue that she should be exempt from blasphemy laws, saying she is only 11 years old and has Down syndrome. A medical report said Rimsha was around 14 years old but had the mental capacities of someone younger.

After the girl's arrest last month, more than 600 people had to flee the Christian neighborhood out of fear.

Rao Abdul Raheem, the lawyer representing the girl's accuser, last week hinted that there could be tensions. He boasted that Pakistan had many who support people like Mumtaz Qadris, who assassinated Punjab's Governor Salman Taseer last year for his advocacy for Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi. Bibi had been convicted by a trial court for blasphemy.

After Taseer's killing came the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and Minister for Minority Affairs, for his criticism of the notorious blasphemy law.

The blasphemy law, embedded in Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, is frequently misused to target religious minorities – Christians, Shi'as, Ahmadiyyas and Hindus – and allows Islamists to justify killings. Extremist Islamists believe that killing a "blasphemous" person earns a heavenly reward.

Just an accusation is enough to have a person arrested. There is no provision in the law to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy. Some local Muslims seek revenge by making an allegation against his or her adversary who is a non-Muslim. Many who are accused of blasphemy are killed by mobs extra-judicially.

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