The Islamabad High Court has dismissed all charges leveled against a disabled Christian girl accused of violating Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
Although 14-year-old Rimsha Masih was said to have deliberately burned pages of the Quran, a 15-page court ruling released Nov. 20 found no witnesses able to verify the accusation.
Bishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore told Aid to the Church in Need that the ruling is “very good news” for Catholics in Pakistan.
“It is also good for Pakistan – the whole of Pakistan – as it shows that there is justice, that where there are good people then justice can prevail,” he added.
While details were still emerging, a local deputy imam came forward saying that Imam Khalid Jadoon Chishti, Rimsha’s accuser, stuffed pages from the Quran into a bag with burnt pages of a religious textbook that a young man brought to him. The young man claimed that Rimsha had burnt the book.
As a result, Rimsha was arrested Aug. 16 and spent three weeks in high security prison. She was released in September on a bail of 100,000 rupees or $10,500.
Police investigating the case found no evidence in support of Chishti’s claims and said he framed the girl.
An official medical board that examined the girl confirmed her physical age as 14 years, but said her mental age is below that due to learning disabilities. Early reports described Rimsha as having Down’s syndrome and being only 10 or 11 years-old.
Prior to her Aug. 28 court appearance, rallies in support of the teen were held in Pakistan and throughout Europe.
Archbishop Shaw said Pakistani Catholics are thankful for those who voiced support for Rimsha.
“We appreciate their efforts and we pray that people like this may continue their efforts so that many, many other people may get justice and live a dignified life,” he said.
The Vatican voiced support for the girl when Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, defended Rimsha and said that “the more the situation worsens and intensifies, the more dialogue is needed,” Vatican Radio reported.
Paul Bhatti, leader of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance and brother to slain Catholic government official, Sahbaz Bhatti, called the ruling an “historic step for Pakistan” that sends “two clear messages” of justice and of warning for those who have misused the blasphemy law, Fides News reported.
Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which strictly prohibits defamation of the prophet Muhammad or the Quran, has received sharp criticism for its vague wording and arbitrary enforcement in recent years.
Bhatti said that although the law has been used pit Muslims and Christians against one another, Rimsha’s case received “the support of many Muslim leaders.”
“… this was very important for the final outcome,” Bhatti said.
In 2010, Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian mother, was sentenced to death by hanging after being convicted of blasphemy against Muhammad for defending her Christian faith at work.
Muslim Governor Salman Taseer was the first to lose his life for his support of Asia Bibi when he was shot in 2011 by a member of his own security, who afterward said he was proud that he had killed him because of his comments criticizing Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
The same year, a group of extremists killed the only Catholic in the Pakistani government, Shabaz Bhatti, who opposed the law on blasphemy and spoke out publicly in defense of Bibi.