Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Pakistan Court Halts Girl's Blasphemy Case ; Judge Cites Lack of Proof, Ordering Police to Drop Charges of Book Burning

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Pakistan Court Halts Girl's Blasphemy Case ; Judge Cites Lack of Proof, Ordering Police to Drop Charges of Book Burning

Article excerpt

In a case that had brought widespread calls for the girl's release, an Islamabad judge said Tuesday that there was no evidence she had desecrated the Koran.

A Pakistani court ordered the police to withdraw blasphemy charges against a Christian teenager Tuesday, lawyers said, bringing an end to a contentious case that had gripped the country and sown fear in its Christian minority population.

The girl, Rimsha Masih, who comes from an impoverished family of sweepers, was arrested in August after Muslim accusers said she had been holding a burned copy of the Noorani Qaida, a religious textbook used to teach the Koran to children. Relatives and human rights workers have said that the girl, 14, has Down syndrome and should therefore be exempt from the blasphemy laws.

On Tuesday, Justice Iqbal Hameed ur Rahman, who heads the Islamabad High Court, stated in his judgment that there was no evidence for the charges against Ms. Masih. In his 15-page judgment, he urged extreme caution in matters related to blasphemy and criticized the practice of false blasphemy accusations against non- Muslims.

"The case against Rimsha Masih is finished," said Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, one of her lawyers. "Justice has been served."

The accusations against Ms. Masih had triggered an outcry in Pakistan and were condemned worldwide, while renewing focus on Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law.

Rights groups say the law, which dates back to the colonial era, is increasingly used to discriminate against religious minorities and accusations are often framed to settle personal enmities and vendettas.

The case against Ms. Masih was particularly shocking as it involved a minor facing charges that carry the possibility of a death sentence. Government officials and several leading politicians expressed outrage over the blasphemy accusations, and in a rare development, several leading Islamic scholars and leaders also condemned the charges. …

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