ISLAMABAD: In a dramatic turn of events, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, the cleric who claimed to have ‘busted’ a blasphemy case involving an 11-year-old Christian girl allegedly burning pages containing verses from the holy Quran, has now been sent to jail on a 14-day judicial remand under the very same charges.
Earlier on Friday, in a rare show of courage, a man, identified as Hafiz Zubair, came forward as a witness and told a law officer that Chishti had planted evidence against Rimsha Masih, saying that the cleric deliberately put charred pages inscribed with Quranic verses in the ashes brought to him by a young man.
Ramna police arrested Chishti on Saturday night and produced him before a duty judge on Sunday before booking him under section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code, on charges of desecrating the holy Quran.
If found guilty, he can be imprisoned for life, said a police official. Police said the charges of tampering with evidence and filing a false case were also being investigated and would be included in the case against the cleric later on.
“We tried to stop him but he said this would strengthen the blasphemy case against Rimsha,” said Zubair, a resident in the area, in his statement. He said they were sitting in Aitikaf in the mosque when they witnessed the incident.
A police officer closely associated with the investigations told The Express Tribune that the cleric not only tampered with the evidence, he made up the whole case.
“He put pages into the ashes, showed them to the people of the area, gathered them to attack the girl’s house and detained her before taking her to the police station. He made the boy Hammad become a complainant in the case and urged the police to press blasphemy charges against the 11-year-old girl,” said the police officer, who did not want to be named.
However, the boy later disappeared after the people from his neighbourhood threatened to sever their relations with him in case he appeared before the court as a complainant. The people did not want to support the cleric in this case, said the policeman. Since then, the boy has been in hiding and has not appeared before the court.
“He (Hammad) never intended to take the case to this extent. He only meant to bring it to the notice of the cleric after he saw the girl with ashes and suspected that she had burnt pages of the holy Quran,” said the officer, quoting the boy from his early investigations.
After the recent turn in the case, Rimsha, a resident of Mehrabadia in the suburbs of the city, may be freed from Adiala jail sometime next week, said a law officer. “It is now clear that the only evidence against her was planted so there is nothing left to keep her behind bars,” said the officer.
The next hearing is to take place today (Monday). However, it is still to be seen if releasing Rimsha from jail is a safe option as she and her family are still under threat.
Meanwhile, members of the Christian community held a protest in Hyderabad on Sunday to express solidarity with the blasphemy accused.
The demonstrators were led by Bishop Kaleem John of the diocese of Hyderabad, who said that the community was outraged not only at Rimsha’s case but at the periodic accusations of blasphemy levelled against his co-religionists in order to frame them.
“Some extremist elements want to stir up confrontation and breed hatred among [our] religions,” John said earlier at a press conference. “These extremists don’t even [tolerate] our existence, in fact, they hate us.”
In reply to a question, the bishop said the Christian community would a court judgment exonerating Rimsha of blame. He warned, however, that if convicted, the verdict will be challenged in the higher courts.
According to Father Daniel Fayyaz, more than 200 Christians have been subjected to blasphemy charges, “But no one has been convicted; which shows that the law is always used for targeting minorities.” WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY Z ALI IN HYDERABAD
Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2012.