Pakistan: Police say no evidence against Rimsha Masih

A police investigator in Pakistan told a trial court Saturday there was no evidence that a young Christian girl had desecrated Islam's holy book.

The investigator, Munir Hussain Jaffri, told the court in Islamabad that his final report shows there is no evidence against Rimsha Masih, believed to be 14 but with a lower mental age.

He said it was possible that the cleric of a nearby mosque tampered with evidence by putting pages of the Koran into a bag the girl had been carrying, local media reports.

Police brought Rimsha to the court in a helicopter, and took her back to an undisclosed location after the hearing as her parents have received death threats.

The case was adjourned until 24 September. The investigation report is likely to help the defence argue for the quashing of the entire case.

Rimsha, who was arrested from the Mehria Jaffar area on the outskirts of Islamabad on 16 August, was released on bail from Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi earlier this month after police arrested the Muslim cleric, Imam Khalid Jadoon, for framing her.

The girl was accused of burning a Noorani Qaida, a booklet used to learn the basics of the Koran. It was also alleged that she had thrown the booklet in the garbage after putting it in a plastic bag.

Jaffri had earlier said three witnesses saw the cleric adding pages carrying Quranic verses to ashes that the complainant, Ammad, handed to him as evidence against the girl. The three urged the cleric not to interfere with the papers. But the cleric told them, "You know this is the only way to expel the Christians from this area."

More than 600 people had to flee the Christian neighbourhood due to tensions after the girl's arrest.

Rao Abdul Raheem, the lawyer representing the girl's accuser, has hinted that there could be vigilante violence. He boasted that Pakistan had many who support people like Mumtaz Qadris, who assassinated Punjab's Governor Salman Taseer last year over his advocacy for Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi. Bibi had been convicted by a trial court for blasphemy.

After Taseer's killing came the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and Minister for Minority Affairs, for his criticism of the notorious blasphemy law.

It is estimated that 51 people accused of blasphemy have been killed before their respective trials were over, according to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper. Most recently, a mentally unstable man was torched alive for alleged blasphemy near Bahawalpur in Punjab Province in July. The mob took the man from a police station where he was under custody on blasphemy charges after burning pages from the Quran.

The blasphemy law, embedded in Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, is frequently misused to target religious minorities – Christians, Shi'as, Ahmadiyyas and Hindus – and allows Islamists to justify killings. Extremist Islamists believe that killing a "blasphemous" person earns a heavenly reward.

Just an accusation is enough to have a person arrested. There is no provision in the law to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy. Some local Muslims seek revenge by making an allegation against his or her adversary who is a non-Muslim. Many who are accused of blasphemy are killed by mobs extra-judicially.