Witnesses in Pak blasphemy case turn hostile

The men who had accused a cleric of tampering evidence to implicate Rimsha in blasphemy case withdrew their statements.

Last Updated: Oct 03, 2012, 12:09 PM IST

Islamabad: The blasphemy case registered against young Christian girl Rimsha Masih took another turn on Monday when two men, who had accused a cleric of tampering with evidence to implicate her, withdrew their statements and claimed they were tortured by police to testify against the imam.

The two witnesses, who had earlier recorded statements against cleric Khalid Chishti, submitted a fresh statement in the court of a district and sessions judge in Islamabad that said police had forced them to blame Chishti for the incident.

The witnesses claimed they had been tortured by police. However, the main witnesses against Chishti, Hafiz Mohammad Zubair, did not retract his testimony against the imam.

Zubair works as the muezzin in the mosque where Chishti is the cleric. Initial reports had said he too had retracted his statement.

Despite their dramatic turnaround today, all three witnesses had earlier spoken to several TV news channels and accused Chishti of tampering evidence to implicate Rimsha in a blasphemy case.

They said Chishti had added burnt pages of a religious text to a shopping bag that was in Rimsha`s possession.

The district and sessions judge put off the hearing of a bail application filed by Chishti till October 3.

Police had earlier submitted an interim challan or charge-sheet that said Chishti had tampered with evidence.

Chishti was remanded to judicial custody last month.

In a separate development, the Islamabad High Court today extended the stay on the trial of Rimsha on blasphemy charges till October 17.

A single-judge bench of the High Court issued the extension while hearing a petition filed by Rimsha`s lawyer for quashing the FIR against her.

During the hearing, a representative for the prosecution told the court that the lawyer was not in Islamabad.

He requested the bench to give the lawyer more time to appear in court. The judge granted the prosecution`s request and extended the stay on the trial.

Chief Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman of the Islamabad High Court had stayed the trial of the minor Christian girl on September 28 so that her petition for quashing the FIR against her could be taken up.

Rimsha was arrested from a low-income neighbourhood on the outskirts of Islamabad on August 16 after her neighbour Malik Ammad accused her of burning pages from a religious text.

She was detained for three weeks in the high-security Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, where top terrorists are also being held.

Police had also said in the interim charge-sheet that they had not found any evidence to support allegations that Rimsha had committed blasphemy.

An official medical board that examined Rimsha said her mental development did not correspond with her age.

Authorities moved Rimsha and her family to an undisclosed location after she was freed on bail on September 8.