In Historic Move, Blasphemy Case against Pakistani Girl to Be Dropped

Article excerpt

In what is being termed a historic verdict by the higher courts in Pakistan, charges against a Christian girl accused of blasphemy were dropped on Tuesday, in response to an appeal filed by her council of lawyers.

The police have withdrawn the charges and quashed the case against her confirmed Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, one of her lawyers, saying that the 14-year-old Rimsha Masih was quite relieved and happy about the courts decision.

Human rights activists in Pakistan say this is a positive development and will set a precedent in the future for the judiciary and law enforcement agencies to act responsibly in cases of blasphemy.

Since the high court decided to throw out the charges against her, it [will] now become a case to refer to and will have long- term positive implications. It will also serve as a lesson for the police to thoroughly investigate cases before charging anyone of blasphemy, says Nadeem Anthony, a Christian activist and member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Mr. Anthony stressed that in past whenever the police have probed cases of blasphemy, accusations have mostly turned out to be false. The Pakistani daily newspaper Dawn reported that some 5,000 cases were registered between 1984 to 2004, and only 964 people were charged with blasphemy.

Rimsha, who was arrested in August and faced life in prison after being accused of burning pages of the Quran by her neighbor, was kept in a high security prison in Rawalpindi, the military city outside Islamabad, for more than two weeks. She was granted bail in September when it emerged that a local cleric had planted false evidence against her.

It appears the cleric wanted to force out the minority Christian families in the area, saying that they were disturbing his call of prayers by holding mass at the local church.

However, despite the fact that the case was dropped, she had to be flown out of the prison to an unknown location to ensure her safety and has been in hiding since. …