.- Several witnesses have charged that a Muslim cleric fabricated evidence against a Down syndrome Christian girl accused of violating Pakistan’s strict blasphemy law.
The witnesses include Hafiz Zubair, the deputy imam of a local mosque. He told police that Imam Khalid Jadoon Chishti deliberately 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 charged that Rimsha Masih had burnt the book.
The imam was arrested Sept. 1 on the deputy imam’s allegations.
Investigating officer Munir Jafferi told the Pakistan Express Tribune that two more witnesses had come forward. The imam could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of desecrating the Quran.
Masih, who is under 14 years old and is likely illiterate, was arrested on Aug. 16. Legal action in her case was first postponed by the Eid holiday and is now delayed until Sept. 7 because of a lawyers’ strike.
Father John Shakir Nadeem, the director of Radio Veritas’ Urdu-language productions, said that Masih’s case has given Christian and Muslim leaders, opinion makers and NGO leaders “the opportunity to explain the evil dynamics and abuse which (are) being carried out with regards to the blasphemy law.”
The public’s new awareness of the abuses could lead to revisions to the law according to the priest, who is secretary of the Pakistan bishops’ conference’s Commission for Social Communications.
Masih has the support of many moderate Muslim leaders, but tensions continue.
Paul Bhatti, a Catholic who advises Pakistan’s prime minister on religious minorities issues, was forced to remain locked in his government office on Monday because of concerns of possible attempts on his life. He now has a special escort for his safety.
Bhatti is the brother of federal minister for religious minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who was assassinated in March 2011 for opposing the blasphemy law.
A Sept. 4 editorial in the Pakistan Express Tribune denounced the treatment of Masih and called for her release. It criticized the blasphemy law, saying that both the police and the judiciary in Pakistan take the side of the accuser in blasphemy cases to try to defuse the situation. The editorial said that no false accusers have been convicted for their false reports.
The accusations against the girl may have economic as well as religious motivations.
Fides news agency says that some land speculators wanted to drive Christians out of the area to acquire their land and have publicized the blasphemy case for leverage against the Christian population.
Fr. Nadeem told Fides that talk about stopping abuses of the law is “already a big step forward.” However, the law is “a very delicate issue” and reform will be “a long-term process.”