Pak blasphemy: Imam sent to 2-week police custody
Islamabad: Amidst the hullabaloo over the arrest of Christian girl, Pakistani police on Saturday arrested a Muslim cleric who had accused Rimsha Masih of blasphemy.
The cleric, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, is suspected of planting evidence, a police officer said on Sunday.
Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, who arrived in court blindfolded on Sunday, and was ordered to be held in police custody for two weeks.
Rimsha has been in custody since she was arrested in a low-income neighbourhood on the outskirts of Islamabad on August 16 after being accused by an angry mob of burning papers containing verses from the Quran, a serious offense in Pakistan that can result in life in prison.
Imam Khalid Chishti of the Jamia Aminia mosque in the low-income Mehria Jaffar neighbourhood of Islamabad was arrested after a man testified that he had seen the cleric stuffing pages of the Quran in the bag of Rimsha Masih, police said on Sunday.
The bag originally contained only some other papers and ashes.
The witness, Hafiz Muhammad Zubair, recorded a statement against the cleric before a magistrate.
Police subsequently arrested Chishti on the basis of this statement and he is expected to be charged under the controversial blasphemy law.
"When the bag was brought to the mosque, there was nothing in it. When he (Chishti) was given the bag, he went into the mosque and pulled out two or three pages and added them to the bag," Zubair told the media.
"I told him what he was doing was wrong. He told me it is evidence against the Christians and a way to get them removed (from the area)," Zubair said.
The incident had occurred while Zubair and some other men were in 'aitekaf' (seclusion) in the mosque during the holy Islamic month of Ramzan.
Zubair said a neighbour of Rimsha named Malik Ammad, the complainant in the case, handed over the bag with the pages of the Quran to the police.
Chishti had acknowledged in a television interview last week that he had, during a recent sermon, called for the eviction of all Christians from the neighbourhood if they did not stop their prayer services because "Pakistan is an Islamic country given by Allah”.
Pakistan Ulema Council chief Allama Tahir Ashrafi asked the Supreme Court Chief Justice to take suo motu notice of the incident and initiate action against those who had really desecrated the Quran and then blamed the Christian girl for the incident.
Rimsha was arrested on August 16 after an angry mob surrounded a police station and demanded that action be taken against her.
She is currently being held at the high-security Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi. Her judicial remand was extended by 14 days last week.
Though an official medical board concluded that Rimsha was aged about 14 years and that her mental development did not correspond to her age, the findings were challenged last week by Rao Abdul Raheem, the lawyer of Rimsha's accuser.
A district and sessions court, which is hearing Rimsha's case, is looking into Raheem's allegations.
Rimsha's bail hearing is scheduled to be taken up by the same court on Monday.
The new evidence against the cleric could help defuse the religiously charged case against Rimsha.
The case has sparked controversy at home and abroad in large part because of her age and questions about her mental capacity. It also has triggered an exodus of hundreds of Christians from the neighbourhood where the accused girl lived, fearful of retribution by their Muslim neighbours.
The girl's family and some human rights activists put the girl's age at as young as 11. A medical board who reviewed her case determined she was around the age of 14 and said her mental capacity did not match her age, which called into question her mental state.
The case has focused attention on Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, with critics say they can be used to settle vendettas or seek retribution. Many of Pakistan's minorities, including Christians, live in fear of being accused of the offense.
People accused of the crime, even those that aren't convicted, often face vigilante justice by outraged Pakistanis. A Pakistani man accused of blasphemy in July was dragged from a police station in the centre of the country, beaten to death and his body set on fire.
Few are willing to tackle the explosive issue after two prominent politicians who criticised the law were murdered last year. One was killed by his own bodyguard, who then attracted adoring crowds. The Pakistani government has been largely silent on the girl's case.