(AlJazeera) 20 November 2012 - Pakistan court has thrown out charges against a young Christian girl accused of blasphemy in a case that drew international condemnation, lawyers said.
Rimsha Masih spent three weeks on remand in an adult jail after she was arrested on August 16 for allegedly burning pages from the Quran.
She was released on bail in September and police have since told the courts that she was not guilty and that a cleric who allegedly framed her should face trial instead.
"The court has quashed the case, declaring Rimsha innocent," her lawyer Akmal Bhatti told the AFP news agency.
Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, a cleric who first gave police the burned papers as evidence against her, was detained on September 1 for desecrating the Quran and tampering with evidence.
An official medical report classified Rimsha as "uneducated" and aged 14, but with a mental age younger than her years.
Others have said she is as young as 11-years-old and suffers from Down's Syndrome.
Paul Bhatti, the only Christian member of Pakistan's federal cabinet, confirmed that the case had been thrown out by the high court in the capital Islamabad.
"I welcome this order. Justice has been done and the law of the land has been upheld by the court," he told AFP.
"It will send out a positive image of Pakistan in the international community that there is justice for all and that society has risen up for justice and tolerance," he added.
Rimsha and her family, who have been in fear for their lives since the allegations, were moved to an undisclosed location after her release on bail on September 8.
By Dan Wooding: Founder of ASSIST Ministries
ISLAMABAD PAKISTAN (ANS) -- The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday, November 17, 2012, extended the restraining order until November 14, 2012, against the holding of the trial of Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian girl, accused of committing blasphemy.
The case of Rimsha Masih, who was arrested on August 18, 2012 under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, has gained huge worldwide attention because of the girl's age and questions about her mental capacity and also allegations that she had been framed by a local Imam who wanted to strengthen the case against her.
The girl's arrest, under the blasphemy laws, triggered an exodus of several hundred Christians from her poor neighborhood on the edge of Islamabad, many fearing for their lives.
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject in Pakistan, where 97 per cent of the 180 million population are Muslims, and allegations of desecrating the Holy Koran or insulting Islam often provoke public fury.
According to Shamim Masih, an ANS correspondent in Pakistan and also a human rights activist, the IHC extended the stay during the hearing of a petition filed by the accused girl for quashing the First Informational Report (FIR) registered against her whom she had pleaded was baseless and had been based on false information.
"The court extended the stay in order to first decide on the petition for quashing the FIR," said Shamim Masih. "During Wednesday's hearing of Rimsha's petition, Chaudhry Abdul Aziz, Advocate, submitted his power of attorney on behalf of Malik Ummad, the accuser.
The court, he said, directed the counsels to conclude their arguments at the upcoming hearing on November 14, 2012, and extended the restraining order until the said date.
Shamim Masih went on the say that in the petition filed for the FIR's quashing, Rimsha's lawyer had contended that it was the Imam, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, who had fabricated the charge of blasphemy because he wanted the Christian community to vacate the area.
Counsel Abdul Hameed Rana referred to the statement of prosecution witness Hafiz Zubair recorded under section 164 of CrPC on August 31 that the Imam had put pages of the Holy Koran in the shopping bag to make a case against the Christians.
Also, he said, the girl was a juvenile according to her medical report compiled by a board of seven doctors, which had also stated that she appeared to be uneducated and of underdeveloped mind.
"Under these circumstances, there was no chance of her conviction and further proceeding with the case would be a futile exercise, the petition had stated," said Masih in his report to ANS.
This strange case has been thrown into disarray after three witnesses who had testified against the accused Imam, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, a prayer leader who had been accused of adding two pages of the Holy Quran in the burnt pages to strengthen the blasphemy case against Rimsha Masih, then they withdrew their testimonies, DawnNews reported.
The witnesses, Khurram Shahzad, Hafiz Mohammad Owais and Danish, in the court of district and sessions judge Islamabad Justice Raja Jawad Abbas, said that the police had coerced them into recording the statements in writing against Jadoon, the Imam of a local mosque of Mehra Jaffer.
The police had recorded the statements of Owais, Shahzad and Danish under section 161 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in which they had endorsed the statement of Hafiz Zubair, another witness in the case.
Subsequently today, the three witnesses again recorded their sworn statements.
Moreover, the court adjourned the hearing in Jadoon's bail plea until October 3. Jadoon was arrested on September 1 after Hafiz Mohammad Zubair, a prayer caller at the same mosque, testified against him before a magistrate.
On Sept 23, the investigation officer in the blasphemy case had exonerated Rimsha, the minor Christian girl, from the main allegation and declared Jadoon as the prime accused.
The information which had been submitted by the investigation officer had stated that Jadoon had ripped two pages from the Holy Koran and mixed them in the half burnt pages of a prayer learning book.
It had also stated that there were at least three witnesses who had claimed that they had personally observed Jadoon mixing the pages of Quran in the evidence to make the case more strong against Rimsha but there was not a single direct evidence or eyewitness who had claimed to have seen the minor girl burning the pages of the prayer book.
On September 3, Khurram Shahzad and Hafiz Owais recorded their separate statements under CrPC 161 (examination of witness by police), with investigating officer sub-inspector Munir Hussain Jaffery, stating that they saw Jadoon putting some pages of the Holy Quran in a plastic bag, after tearing them.
The sources in the police close to the investigation had told Dawn that the case's complainant Malik Hammad, who was also a neighbor of the girl, brought a polythene shopper to the mosque carrying ashes and some burnt papers and handed it to them.
Earlier on Sept 1, Zubair, who had claimed being an eye-witness in the case, had in his statement said that he was sitting in Aitekaf (meditation) during the month of Ramazan in the mosque - situated in front of Rimsha's house.
Zubair had alleged that when Hammad brought the burnt pages of the Holy Quran before Jadoon, the cleric included two pages of the holy verses in the evidence to strengthen the case against the minor girl.
Zubair had said he had tried to stop Jadoon and insisted that the original evidence should be produced against Rimsha before the police.
The witnesses had stated that Jadoon ignored his advice and said that it would make the case stronger and that would lead to the eviction of the Christian girl's family from the area.
On September 7, the additional district and sessions court of Islamabad had granted bail to the girl. Later on September 8, Rimsha was airlifted from Adiyala jail to an unspecified location within Islamabad under the protective custody of police after completion of legal formalities by her lawyers.
According to a story published in the Morning Star News, Session Judge Raja Jawwad Abbas on October 11 granted bail to Khalid Jadoon Chishti, leader of a mosque in the Meherabadi suburb of Islamabad. The bail came less than six weeks after his arrest.
The Morning Star News said he was granted bail for 200,000 rupees (US$2,065) after witnesses on Oct. 1 retracted statements that he added burnt pages of the Koran to a bag of ashes carried by Rimsha Masih, the Christian girl originally charged with desecrating the Koran.
Pakistani Imam Charged in Christian Girl’s Case Wins Bail
Cleric accused of producing false evidence against Rimsha Masih, who is charged with ‘blasphemy.’
Special to Morning Star News
LAHORE, Pakistan, October 15 (Morning Star News) – A Muslim cleric charged with fabricating evidence to make it appear that a Christian girl desecrated the Koran – thus incurring charges of desecrating the Koran himself – has been granted bail.
While Christians accused of blaspheming Islam in Pakistan routinely spend years languishing in jails, Islamabad Session Judge Raja Jawwad Abbas on Thursday (Oct. 11) granted bail to Khalid Jadoon Chishti, leader of a mosque in the Meherabadi suburb of Islamabad, less than six weeks after his arrest.
He was granted bail against a surety of 200,000 rupees (US$2,065) after witnesses on Oct. 1 retracted statements that he added burnt pages of the Koran to a bag of ashes carried by Rimsha Masih, the Christian girl originally charged with desecrating the Koran.
Rimsha’s lawyer, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, said the backtracking of the witnesses would not harm chances of acquittal for Rimsha, who is about 14 but mentally younger than that, according to a recent medical report. She was originally charged as an adult with desecrating the Koran, punishable by life in prison, but her case has been transferred to a juvenile court.
“Our case is secure,” Chaudhry told Morning Star News. “Rimsha has been declared medically unfit by a government board, and even the police investigation has given her a clean chit. We are nearing complete victory.”
Jadoon Chishti was arrested on Sept. 1 after Hafiz Mohammad Zubair, a leader at his mosque, testified against him before a magistrate. On Sept. 23, Sub-Inspector Munir Jaffrideclared Rimsha innocent and instead chargedJadoon Chishti with desecrating the Koran.
A report submitted by Jaffri stated that Jadoon Chishti had ripped two pages from the Koran and mixed them into half-burnt pages of an Arabic-language, prayer-learning book called the “Noorani Qaida.”
The report also stated that Zubair and two other witnesses had claimed that they had seen Jadoon Chishti mixing pages of the Koran into evidence to strengthen a case against Rimsha, and that there was no evidence or any eyewitness who claimed to have seen the girl burning the Islamic texts.
Zubair stated that he was sitting in meditation in the mosque in front of Rimsha’s house when he saw Malik Hammad, a neighbor of the girl and the complainant in the case, bring the burnt pages of the Koran to Jadoon Chishti, who then included them in the evidence against the girl. Zubair said he had tried to stop Jadoon Chishti and insisted that only the original materials taken as evidence against Rimsha be brought to police.
The two other witnesses, Khurram Shahzad and Hafiz Mohammad Owais, had also stated to Jaffri that Hammad had brought to the mosque a polythene bag filled with ashes and burnt papers and handed it to them. Shahzad was offering prayers while Owais was in meditative seclusion, but they said Hammad later took the bag from them and handed it to Jadoon Chishti, and that he later tore some pages from the Koran and put them into it.
They reportedly said they objected to the act, but that Jadoon Chishti replied, “This will strengthen a case. Now is a good time to get rid of the Christians of this area.”
Later they brought the matter in the attention of Zubair, who also objected without effect, according to Jaffri’s report.
Jadoon Chishti’s defense has benefited from the vigorous efforts of a large group of lawyers who were actively involved in defending Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed assassin of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab who voiced support for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five unjustly convicted of blaspheming Islam.
Jadoon Chishti was actively involved in conspiring against Christians of Meherabadi, besides once forcibly stopping them from playing musical instruments during worship, sources said.
The three witnesses who recanted said they were tortured into making the statements incriminating Jadoon Chishti.
Pakistan is nearly 96 percent Muslim, according to Operation World, and religiously charged court cases commonly involve clamoring crowds of Muslimsand other pressures coming to bear on lawyers and judges. Christians make up 2.45 percent of the population.
The additional district and sessions court of Islamabad granted bail to Rimsha on Sept. 7. The next day she was airlifted from Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi to an unspecified location within Islamabad under the protective custody of police.
The girl’s arrest under Pakistan’s widely condemned blasphemy laws had triggered an exodus of several hundred Christians from her poor neighborhood on the edge of the federal capital, Islamabad.
Chaudhry, the main lawyer for Rimsha, said his team was prepared to ask the judge to drop all charges against the girl.
“God willing, the case against Rimsha will be dropped at the court hearing on Oct. 17,” he said in a confident tone.
Chaudhry said that Rimsha and her family were safe at a secret location.
“People accused of blasphemy are seldom able to settle in the same area even after being acquitted of the charge or having served the sentence – this family will have to be relocated,” he said, adding that Rimsha’s father, Mizrek Masih, did not wish to go abroad.
Most of the other Christian residents of the area have returned, while others have relocated to Islamabad and its twin city of Rawalpindi, Chaudhry said.
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LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Rimsha Masih and her family will remain in Pakistan after her legal ordeal is over, one of her lawyers says.
According to a story by Open Doors News, the teenage Pakistani girl, who was arrested in August on suspicion of desecrating Islamic texts, is due to appear in an Islamabad juvenile court Oct. 17.
Open Doors News said originally charged in regular court where the potential penalty is life imprisonment, the girl's case was transferred to the juvenile court after her age was certified and evidence surfaced that she was framed by a local imam.
"We will ask the judge to quash the charges against her," attorney Tahir Naveed told Open Doors News.
After that, he said, the girl's family will try to settle back into something resembling a normal life.
"The family will live in Pakistan and they have already voiced their intention publicly," Naveed said.
He added, "For now it's certain that the family of Mizrek Masih will not seek asylum outside Pakistan. We will relocate them and also help in arranging employment for the father."
A report surfaced Tuesday that the family had been secreted away to Norway. However, the minister of the Ministry of National Harmony, Paul Bhatti, denied the report.
"There's no truth in rumors that Rimsha has been moved to Norway," Bhatti told Open Doors News.
He added, "Mizrek Masih's family is in Pakistan and in our protection and they will be produced in court, if required."
He said he is hopeful Rimsha would be cleared from charges at her Oct. 17 hearing.
Open Doors News said other Christians who fled Islamabad's Meherabadi neighborhood to avoid Muslim anger over Rimsha's alleged offense have also tried to return home.
Naveed, who is a member Punjab state Legislative Assembly, said his All Pakistan Minorities Alliance party is looking after the needs of returning Christians and that relations with Muslims are calm.
However, Open Doors News reported, not everyone sees it that way.
"Some members of Rimsha's congregation, who gathered last Sunday for worship at the church in the affected area, were stopped from playing the harmonium and tablas when they were singing hymns," said a Christian pastor identified as Ahsraf.
He said he provided shelter to several Christians fleeing from Meherabadi at his church in Islamabad's Sector G-8.
He added, "The tension is pretty much out there."
Ashraf said about 450 Christians took shelter in the 66 Quarters area of Awami Colony in the suburbs of the Islamabad.
"The Ministry for National Harmony promised to look after them but they were left high and dry," Open Doors News reported he said. Some staged protests demanding that the ministry find them a safer settlement.
Arif Masih, a former resident of the area, said soon after Rimsha's arrest a number of Christian organizations jumped in to offer shelter, "but most of them abandoned us one after the other."
He added, "Only a couple of organizations have helped to some extent. One organization has agreed to finance resettling of about 25 families and they've said that they will rent out homes for another 75 families. It's yet to be seen when this happens. The other organization resettled 10 families and left."
Open Doors News reported that Christians who live some streets away from Rimsha's home have returned to their homes.
However, those who lived closer to her home have preferred to relocate, said Napolean Qayyum, a field director for World Vision in Progress, which describes itself as "a ground organization working for the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan."
Open Doors News reported that Bhatti said he had formed a committee to look into the matter, and the situation would be resolved soon.
"Almost 90 percent of Meherabadi's Christians were living in rented homes," Bhatti said. "While many have returned to their previous abodes, some want to relocate to other areas for which the government is considering some proposals."
Open Doors News said for a moment, Pakistani Christians may have thought the apparent collapse of the case had opened a narrow window of opportunity to weaken the country's anti-blasphemy law.
Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, used the Rimsha arrest as an opportunity to insist the blasphemy law must not be used as a cover to settle personal scores. Naveed said his party had started consulting other parties on proposals to reopen and reinvestigate all blasphemy cases.
However, Open Doors News said, that window slammed shut on Sept. 11, when a portion of the Islamic world erupted in outrage over the anti-Islam Internet video "Innocence of Muslims," which portrays Muhammad as a womanizer and false prophet.
"Much progress had been made," Naveed said, "but this film brushed everything aside." The turmoil scuttled plans to bring the Masih family back to their home for a temporary visit, he said.
Bhatti, too, said the video undermined efforts being made to promote religious harmony.
"A church was burned down in Mardan by an anti-film mob," Open Doors News reported he said.
He added, "They also burned down an adjacent school and a library, while the provincial government played the role of a silent spectator. Twenty-six people died in countrywide violent riots that day. The entire debate shifted to the film issue. A setback, indeed."
Open Doors News said this week in Islamabad, attention turns to Khalid Jadoon, imam of Meherabadi mosque, who is due in court Oct. 11. He faces allegations that he planted the damaged religious texts into a bag Rimsha was carrying, to create a pretext for reporting her to police.
Three witness whose original testimony provided police with the evidence to arrest Jadoon recanted at an Oct. 1 court hearing. The witnesses, Khurram Shahzad, Hafiz Mohammad Owais and a man identified by the name Danish, told the judge the police had tortured them into recording their incriminating statements.
Open Doors News said the Ramna police had recorded the statements of Owais, Shahzad and Danish under Section 161 of Criminal Procedure Code. In that they had endorsed the statement of Hafiz Zubair, a prayer caller at the same mosque who had testified against Jadoon before a magistrate.
On Sept. 23, Open Doors News reported, Sub-Inspector Munir Jaffri, the investigation officer in the blasphemy case, asked the court to clear Rimsha of the charge against her and instead charge Jadoon. Rimsha was granted bail, and a day later was airlifted from Adiala jail in Rawalpindi to an undisclosed location.
Naveed said the backtracking of the witnesses would not cause much harm to Rimsha's case because her innocence has been established.
"The prosecution is trying its best to save Jadoon, but the case against him is watertight," Open Doors News reported he said.
If so, Open Doors News said, it might open another window of opportunity.
"This is the first case of its kind when a person charged under the strict blasphemy laws is exonerated from the accusation," Naveed said. "This case has also brought for the first time a debate on how these laws are misused to target innocent people."
For more information go to www.opendoorsnews.org
(CNN 1 Oct 2012) Pakistani police told CNN their investigation concluded Rimsha Masih is innocent and was framed by an imam. "There was no legal evidence against Rimsha," officer Munir Jafri told CNN.
"This is a precursor to the case ending, and that is quite unprecedented in the 25-year history of Pakistan's blasphemy laws," said Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director of Human Rights Watch.
Police have submitted the findings to the court. Pakistan courts usually go with what police recommend.
There is a lot of evidence implicating imam Khalid Jadoon Chishti for framing the teenager and for himself tearing pages out of the holy book, Jafri told CNN.
This is significant, said Human Rights Watch's Hasan, because "never before has a false accuser been held accountable."
The teen's case sparked international outcry against the Pakistani government, some saying the blasphemy laws are used to settle scores and persecute religious minorities.
Blasphemy laws have been a part of life in Pakistan for 25 years, first instituted primarily to keep peace between religions, Hasan said.
But a military leader in Pakistan in the middle 1980s tightened the laws, introducing amendments that "essentially made blasphemy a capital offense," Hasan said.
"They were vaguely worded ... and became an instrument of coercion and persecution," he said. "The laws were disproportionately used against the weakest and most vulnerable in society -- religious minorities, women, children and the poor."
There have been 1,400 blasphemy cases since 1986, according to Hasan. There are more than 15 cases of people on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, and 52 have been killed while facing trial for the charge, Hasan said.
Rimsha was arrested on August 16.
She and her family spoke to CNN in early September from an undisclosed location, in hiding after Rimsha was released on bail -- a move that appeared to be in reaction to the global condemnation of her jailing.
The teen said she was happy to be with her family, but feared for her life.
"I'm scared," she said by phone. "I'm afraid of anyone who might kill us."
The teen spoke in short sentences, answering "yes" or "no" in a shy and nervous voice.
In Pakistan, people accused of blasphemy are often attacked and sometimes killed by vigilantes.
During CNN's interview with her, Rimsha said, "No, no," when asked if she burned pages of the Quran.
She wouldn't answer questions about what happened on August 16.
Pakistani investigators said Rimsha's neighbor accused her of burning pages of the Quran to use as cooking fuel. The neighbor began to shout in protest, drawing a crowd that grew angry. Some neighbors said the teenager was beaten. Others said she ran back home and locked herself inside. When police arrived, they arrested her.
Rimsha's lawyers said the neighbor wanted to settle a personal score with the girl because the two didn't get along. They said it's likely that he liked the teen and she didn't feel the same.
While the latest turn in her case this week appears largely positive, her ordeal is far from over.
The next hearing in Rimsha's case is set for October 1 in juvenile court.
Most victims of Pakistan's blasphemy laws belong to minority Muslim sects like the Ahamadis, who many of Pakistan's majority Sunnis perceive as nonbelievers, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Human Rights Watch.
Rimsha's father, Mizrak Masih, is a Christian. He paints houses for a few dollars a day.
He was adamant that no one in his family would dishonor the Quran.
"We respect the Quran just like we respect the Bible," he said. "We couldn't imagine committing blasphemy, let alone doing it. Our children would never do this either."
A family representative said that aid groups in the United States, Italy and Canada have offered to the teen and her family a home outside Pakistan.
But no matter how her case pans out, it's unclear what kind of life she might be able to have. She told CNN in September that she wanted to stay in her home country.
People will believe what they want to believe, no matter what the courts or police say, Hasan said.
"She is certainly in grave danger," he said. "It's the accusation that endangers your life, and can endure."