In an extraordinary development in the case of Rimsha Masih, a young Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy, a Pakistani imam has been remanded in custody, accused of planting pages of the Quran among burnt pages in her bag.
The case, which has sparked international condemnation, relates to the girl, who is said to be about 14 years old and has learning difficulties, who was detained two weeks ago near the capital Islamabad after an angry mob demanded she be punished.
Now, comes an incredible twist in the case as, according to the BBC, prosecutors say Imam Khalid Chishti will himself face charges of blasphemy.
Imam Khalid Chishti allegedly told a witness, after tampering with the girl’s bag, that this was a “way of getting rid of Christians”, a prosecutor said.
Earlier this week, a court extended Rimsha’s detention at a maximum-security prison by a further two weeks.
“Her father has said he fears for his daughter’s life and for the safety of his family. He has called on Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to pardon her,” said the BBC.
“Rimsha’s parents have been taken into protective custody following threats, and many other Christian families have fled the neighborhood.
“Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws are often used to settle personal vendettas, correspondents say. Last year two leading politicians were assassinated after speaking out against the legislation.”
Imam Chishti appeared in the Islamabad court with a white blindfold and shackled hands.
There was a large police presence as he was ushered into the building.
“The imam was arrested after his deputy Maulvi Zubair and two others told a magistrate he added pages from the Quran to the burnt pages brought to him by a witness,” an investigator Munir Hussain Jaffri said.
He said Mr. Zubair and some others had told the imam not to interfere, urging him to “give the evidence to the police as he got it”.
According to Mr. Jaffri, Imam Chishti had told them: “You know this is the only way to expel the Christians from this area.”
The investigator said the cleric had been arrested at his home on Saturday under Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
“By putting these pages in the ashes he also committed desecration of the Holy Quran and he is being charged with blasphemy,” he said.
The girl’s lawyer told AFP news agency that Rimsha “should be acquitted immediately”, as it had been “fully proven that it was a conspiracy”.
If this charge against the imam is proven true and he did plant evidence that could have Rimsha sentenced to death, it is absolutely shocking that this so-called religious leader would pick on this simple girl who couldn’t fight for herself.
We now hope that Rimsha will be immediately released and Pakistan will make sure that she and her family are given full protection. However, with the country’s abysmal record in protecting people speaking out against the blasphemy law (or having been charged with it), I have grave doubts about what will happen to this poor girl and her family.