The arrest of a cleric for tampering with evidence against a Christian girl accused of blasphemy will help stop the abuse of blasphemy laws, said Minister for National Harmony Paul Bhatti on Tuesday.
The young Christian, Rimsha Masih, has been in custody for nearly three weeks after she was accused of burning pages containing verses from the Holy Quran in a case that has prompted worldwide concern.
The affair took an unexpected twist on Saturday when the imam, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, who first gave police evidence against her was accused by the mosque muezzen of adding pages from the Holy Quran to the burnt papers taken from Rimsha.
“It is a good omen. The muezzen has revealed the truth and it will be helpful to deal with the future blasphemy cases,” Bhatti said in an interview on Monday. “The disclosure about tampering with the evidence will discourage future accusers from misusing this law.”
Bhatti’s brother and his predecessor Shahbaz was gunned down last year for speaking out against the blasphemy law.
Rimsha, who is “uneducated” and has a mental age of less than 14 according to a medical report, will remain in a high-security prison until Friday at the earliest – by which time she will have spent 22 days in custody.
Judge Muhammad Azam Khan, who has repeatedly delayed bail proceedings for Rimsha, again adjourned the matter on Monday after the lawyer for her accuser asked for a stay to show solidarity with a provincial lawyers’ strike.
Activists say the blasphemy laws are often abused to settle personal vendettas, and even unproven allegations can prompt a violent public response .But it is rare to see anyone investigated for making a false allegation or interfering with evidence of blasphemy.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Bhatti contradicted parts of a news item that appeared in The Express Tribune titled “Interfaith Harmony Commission on anvil” on September 4, 2012. The story quoted him as saying that “the commission, if it is constituted, will also look into a possible elimination of the death penalty from Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which criminalises the act of insulting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and makes it punishable by life imprisonment.”
The spokesman said this quote is wrongly attributed to the minister. In fact the minister only talked about the misuse of the blasphemy law, he added.
(With additional input from News Desk)
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2012.