Still No Bail For Pakistan 'Blasphemy' Girl

by
staff
A young Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy in a case that has prompted international concern will stay in jail until at least Friday, after a bail hearing on Monday was adjourned.

Still No Bail For Pakistan 'Blasphemy' Girl

A young Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy in a case that has prompted international concern will stay in jail until at least Friday, after a bail hearing on Monday was adjourned.

Rimsha has been in custody since being arrested in a poor Islamabad suburb two and a half weeks ago, accused of burning papers containing verses from the Koran, in breach of Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws.

Judge Muhammad Azam Khan adjourned the case until September 7 because of a lawyers' strike, following a request from the lawyer for Rimsha's neighbour Hammad Malik, who filed the original complaint against her.

A medical report last week said Rimsha appeared to be around 14 years old, which would make her a minor, and had a mental age below her true age, but the court has yet to decide whether to accept the assessment.

Some reports have said Rimsha has Down's Syndrome and her case has prompted concern from Western governments and anger from rights groups, who warn the blasphemy legislation is often abused to settle personal vendettas.

Police on Saturday arrested Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, the imam of the mosque in Rimsha's area who first submitted the burnt papers as evidence against her, after his deputy told the police that he had tampered with the evidence.

Chishti's deputy Maulvi Hafiz Mohammad Zubair and two others, Mohammad Shahzad and Awais Ahmed, told a magistrate the cleric added pages from the Koran to the burnt pages brought to him by a witness to beef up the case against her.

"The imam was arrested after his deputy Maulvi Zubair and two others told a magistrate he added pages from the Koran to the burnt pages brought to him by a witness," police investigator Munir Hussain Jaffri said.

Zubair and the two others said they had urged Chishti not to interfere with the papers, Jaffri said.

"They protested that he should not add something to the evidence and he should give the evidence to the police as he got it and should not do this," Jaffri said.

"But they said Chishti said, 'You know this is the only way to expel the Christians from this area.'"

On August 24 Chishti told AFP he thought Rimsha had burned the pages deliberately as part of a Christian "conspiracy" to insult Muslims, and said action should have been taken sooner to stop what he called their "anti-Islam activities" in Mehrabad.

Jaffri said the cleric was arrested at his home on Saturday under the blasphemy law.

"By putting these pages in the ashes he also committed desecration of the Holy Koran and he is being charged with blasphemy," he said.

Rimsha's lawyer Tahir Naveed Chaudhry said the case against her was fatally flawed.

"This development has created doubts and under the law, the benefit of the doubt is always given to the accused," he told AFP.

"Now it has been fully proven that it was a conspiracy. We want that Rimsha should be acquitted immediately."

Chishti, who arrived at court on Sunday blindfolded and handcuffed and guarded by armed police commandos, was remanded in custody for 14 days and will be held at the same jail as Rimsha.

Speaking to reporters, Chishti said the allegations against him were "concocted".

Rao Abdur Raheem, the lawyer for Rimsha's accuser, her neighbour Hammad Malik, said the development was intended to "spoil" his case and he accused the authorities of interfering.

"They are pressurising the complainants and witnesses to facilitate the bail of Rimsha," he told the court.

"They are making threats on behalf of the people sitting in the president's house."