Rimsha Masih, the14-year-old Christian girl who was arrested for allegedly burning pages of the Quran, has quickly become the “poster child” for the infamous Pakistani blasphemy laws.
In a surprising turn of events, deputy mosque leader Hafiz Zubair testified before a magistrate in Islamabad saying that he and two others were in the mosque when Rimsha’s accuser, Malik Ammad, came to the imam, Khalid Jadoon Chishti. The accuser brought a plastic bag that he claimed contained the ashes of a book Rimsha burned, a book to teach children Arabic so they could read the Quran.
Zubair testified that the imam then brought some pages of the Quran from inside the mosque and mixed them with the ash. “I asked why he was fabricating the evidence. He said this would ensure a strong case against the girl and would ultimately help them in evicting the Christians from the locality,” said Zubair, adding that two others present in the mosque had also asked the imam not to place false evidence in the bag.
Police subsequently charged Jadoon under a section of Pakistan’s blasphemy law which calls for life imprisonment to any person found guilty of willful desecration of the Quran. On Sunday, a local magistrate sent the imam to jail on remand until September 16th.
The case against Rimsha has completely collapsed according to Tahir Naveed Chaudry, her attorney. “There’s nothing left in the case…the prosecution has completely failed.” However, even if exonerated, Rimsha’s family may still face persecution in their community. Dr Paul Bhatti, Minister in charge of National Harmony, said there was no proposal under consideration to send Rimsha and her family out of Pakistan. “I don’t think they will want to leave Pakistan. If it’s proved that she is innocent, I don’t think any Muslim will want to hurt the family because of the false accusation made against her. We will try to relocate them, if at all, and provide a new job for her father so that they can start afresh,” he said.
Concerning the future of Christian families that fled the area fearing violence, Bhatti has asked the Interior Ministry and the police to provide him a complete list of those now housed in various parts of the capital. “From our investigation, it appears some vested interests are behind the whole episode…. Although the Christians don’t have the property rights to the land, and are merely tenants of the Muslims, it’s becoming quite clear that a land mafia has set its sights on the area, and wants to evict the Christians to clear their way,” he said.
Meanwhile, Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, urged the government to set up a team to investigate possible abuse of the blasphemy laws. Ashrafi also said he was willing to talk to all religious leaders to form an opinion against the misuse of the blasphemy laws. “We will not allow anyone to implicate an innocent person because of personal reasons. Rimsha’s case is indeed an eye-opener for all of us, and we are truly sorry for all the agony and pain the poor girl has had to suffer because of a person who does not know the true basis of Islam,” he said.
Xavier William, a Christian activist in Rawalpindi, close to Islamabad, told the BBC,” ….This has given a fresh start to the debate about the reforms in the blasphemy laws. This is a national issue and everyone who claims to be secular and liberal should raise their voice. It’s time to stop atrocities on the basis of religion. If we don’t raise our voice now, the next generations will question our silence.”
Father, thank You for watching over Rimsha and providing for her probable release from prison. Keep her and her family safe as they return to wherever they will be living. And we pray that this indeed will be a step toward bringing about an end to the unjust use of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. We pray also for Asia Bibi and others who remain in prison; that this turn of events might bring about their release as well. In the name of Jesus, Amen!