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Pak HC quashes blasphemy case against Christian girl

November 20, 2012 13:51 IST

The Pakistan high court has dismissed the blasphemy case against Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian girl who was accused of desecrating the Quran. Though it was a first-of-its-kind judgment, the blasphemy law has been often used against the minorities, says Tahir Ali.

Rimsha Masih, the 14-year-old Christian girl who was accused of committing blasphemy has been finally cleared of all charges by the Islamabad high court.

Rimsha was arrested from a slum in Islamabad on August 16 this year, after a neighbour accused her of desecrating the Quran, in violation of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

The court, while dismissing the first information report against her on Tuesday, said that she was 'unaware' and that she had 'no intention' to desecrate the pages.

The judge in his remarks said that no one had witnessed Rimsha desecrating the pages, and dismissed the FIR against her. Terming the issue of blasphemy as 'very sensitive', he said that much care was needed in such cases in the future.

Earlier, a petition was filed on behalf of the accused girl for quashing the FIR, which she had pleaded was baseless and was based on false information. The court had extended the stay in order to decide on the petition for quashing the FIR.

During the hearing of Rimsha's petition on October 17, advocate Chaudhry Abdul Aziz submitted his power of attorney on behalf of Malik Ammad, the accuser. The court had directed the counsels to conclude their arguments at the upcoming hearing on November 14, and extended the restraining order until the said date.

In the petition filed for the FIR's quashing, Rimsha's lawyer Abdul Hameed Rana had contended that it was Khalid Jadoon, the imam of Mehra Jaffer mosque, who had fabricated the charge of blasphemy.

Rana referred to the statement of prosecution witness Hafiz Zubair, recorded under section 164 of CrPC on August 31 that the imam had put pages of the religious text in the shopping bag to make a case.

He said the girl was a juvenile according to her medical report compiled by a board of seven doctors, which had also stated that she appeared to be uneducated and of an underdeveloped mind.

"Under these circumstances, there is no chance of her conviction, and further proceeding with the case would be a futile exercise," the petition had stated.

The blasphemy law

The blasphemy law in Pakistan is considered to be controversial -- the law itself is not wrong -- but there have been instances of it being used against the minorities.

Although the law has been around for a while, it came under the spotlight when Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, was sentenced to death in November 2010 for blasphemy. In January 2011, Salman Taseer, former governor Punjab and a critic of the blasphemy law, was assassinated by his own guard, Mumtaz Qadri.

The assasin was honoured by the people of Pakistan and was termed as a 'hero of Islam'.

In the same year in March, Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, who was also an outspoken critic of the blasphemy law, was killed in broad daylight in Islamabad.

The blasphemy law traces back to 1860 when offences relating to religion were codified by the British, who were ruling the subcontinent. The law was expanded in 1927 and after Partition, Pakistan inherited the same law.

During the military regime of former President General Zia-ul-Haq, a number of clauses were added to the law.

In early 1980s, many clauses were added to the chapter of religious offences in Pakistan's panel code. According to one of the newly-added clauses, making derogatory remarks against Islamic personalities was termed as an offence and the maximum punishment was three years in jail.

Another clause prescribed life imprisonment for 'willful' desecration of the Quran. In 1986, a separate clause was inserted to punish blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed and the penalty recommended was 'death, or imprisonment for life', in that order.

Tahir Ali in Islamabad