Three witnesses who had earlier testified against prayer leader Khalid Jadoon Chishti in the blasphemy case against Rimsha Masih withdrew their statements on Monday, insisting that the police had “coerced” them into doing so.
In their affidavits before the court, witnesses Hafiz Owais, Khurram Shahzad and Danish Ahmed reneged from their previously-recorded statements, claiming these were recorded under duress.
According to their new affidavits, they did not see prayer leader Chishti desecrating pages from the Holy Quran and stacking them to the evidence against Rimsha.
Earlier Shahzad and Owais had claimed that they saw the cleric tearing some pages of the Quran and placing them in a plastic bag. The eyewitnesses had claimed that Chishti added those torn pages to the ashes seized from 14-year-old Rimsha to implicate her.
The Ramna police station had recorded the statements from Owais and Shahzad, both of whom had endorsed what a third eyewitness Hafiz Zubair had said about the prayer leader. Consequently, on September 2, Chishti was sent to jail on a 14-day judicial remand.
After receiving the affidavits, Islamabad district and session judge Raja Jawad Abbas issued notices to Investigation Officer (IO) Munir Jaffri, District Attorney (DA) Mehfooz Paracha and complainant Hammad Malik and adjourned the case till October 3.
Separately, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) chief justice extended the stay on the trial court proceedings against the Christian girl till October 17. Earlier on September 28, the same bench had restrained the trial court proceedings till October 1.
During Monday’s hearing, the counsel for the complainant failed to appear before the court and as a consequence the court extended the stay and adjourned the case till October 17.
The petitioner’s counsel, Advocate Abdul Hameed Rana, had moved the petition seeking the cancellation of the FIR registered against Rimsha on August 16. The counsel told the bench that the police had registered an FIR against the girl under Section 295-B at the behest of Hammad Malik, a resident of Mera Jaffer, which was based on “mala fide intention”.
He informed the court that the three witnesses – including the prayer caller (muezzin) of the mosque and two other residents of that locality – had already recorded their statements against prayer leader Chishti which indicated that he was trying to strengthen the case against Rimsha so that her family could be evicted from the locality.
Earlier on September 7, the court had granted bail to the girl accused of blasphemy against two surety bonds of Rs500,000 each. She was flown off in a helicopter to an undisclosed location after her release from jail.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2012.