ISLAMABAD: A court acquitted a Muslim cleric who accused a Christian girl of blasphemy before he was arrested on similar charges, a lawyer said yesterday.
The girl, Rimsha Masih, was arrested in August 2012 for allegedly burning pages containing Quranic verses but the case against her, which drew widespread international condemnation, was quashed.
Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, the cleric who made the allegations, was accused of desecrating the Holy Quran and tampering with evidence against Rimsha. But his lawyer, Wajid Ali Gilani, said: “The court has dismissed all charges against Chishti and has acquitted him.”
Gilani said the prosecution had failed to prove the charges while all witnesses had withdrawn their accusations.
Rimsha, who lived in a poor, run-down neighbourhood on the edge of Islamabad, spent three weeks on remand in one of Pakistan’s toughest jails and could have faced life in prison if she had been convicted.
She and her family were forced into hiding, living under government protection in fear of their lives. Rimsha is now in Canada.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim, and can be punished by death.
Even unproven allegations can provoke a violent public response.
Local media previously said Rimsha was 11, but an official medical report classified her as “uneducated” and 14, but with a mental age younger than that.
In 2011, politicians Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were assassinated for demanding that the blasphemy law should be reformed.