In historic move, blasphemy case against Pakistani girl to be dropped

Human rights activists in Pakistan say the decision to end the prosecution of Rimsha Masih is positive and will set a precedent in the future for the judiciary and law enforcement agencies.

Anjum Naveed/AP
In this Sept. 8 file photo, a Pakistani police officer and a Christian volunteer escort a young Christian girl accused of blasphemy, towards a helicopter following her release from central prison on the outskirts of Rawalpindi, Pakistan. A defense lawyer said Tuesday, a Pakistani court has acquitted the Christian girl accused of burning Muslim holy book, Quran, for lack of evidence.

In what is being termed a historic verdict by the higher courts in Pakistan, charges against a Christian girl accused of blasphemy were dropped on Tuesday, in response to an appeal filed by her council of lawyers.

“The police have withdrawn the charges and quashed the case against her” confirmed Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, one of her lawyers, saying that the 14-year-old Rimsha Masih was quite relieved and happy about the court’s decision.

Human rights activists in Pakistan say this is a positive development and will set a precedent in the future for the judiciary and law enforcement agencies to act responsibly in cases of blasphemy.

“Since the high court decided to throw out the charges against her, it [will] now become a case … to refer to and will have long-term positive implications. It will also serve as a lesson for the police to thoroughly investigate cases before charging anyone of blasphemy,” says Nadeem Anthony, a Christian activist and member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Mr. Anthony stressed that in past whenever the police have probed cases of blasphemy, accusations have mostly turned out to be false.  The Pakistani daily newspaper Dawn reported that some 5,000 cases were registered between 1984 to 2004, and only 964 people were charged with blasphemy.

Rimsha, who was arrested in August and faced life in prison after being accused of burning pages of the Quran by her neighbor, was kept in a high security prison in Rawalpindi, the military city outside Islamabad, for more than two weeks. She was granted bail in September when it emerged that a local cleric had planted false evidence against her.

It appears the cleric wanted to force out the minority Christian families in the area, saying that they were “disturbing his call of prayers” by holding mass at the local church.

However, despite the fact that the case was dropped, she had to be flown out of the prison to an unknown location to ensure her safety and has been in hiding since.

Mr. Chaudhry, Rimsha's lawyer, confirmed that the girl and her family are still under protective custody and it is unlikely that they will return home because of the threats to her life.

Analysts believe this is because radicalization in Pakistani society is quickly multiplying and has resulted in the current wave of militancy. That many groups in Pakistan are armed also poses a serious threat.

“The fact that she is still hiding points to a bigger problem in the society. A few years ago, when it became clear that two brothers accused of blasphemy were going to be acquitted in Faisalabad, they were shot dead outside the premises of the court,” says Marvi Sirmed, a minority rights activist. Ms. Sirmed was herself recently attacked by unknown gunmen in Islamabad, owing to her vocal views about human rights issues in Pakistan.

Sirmed says that the state has failed to protect its citizens in these cases. The root of the problem, she says, is extremism in Pakistan. “Christians are not the only one facing the wrath of blasphemy laws. In fact, the majority of the cases are against Muslims,” she points out. According to an independent study, 51 percent of Pakistanis charged with blasphemy are Muslim, while a human rights report found almost 58 percent of those accused were Muslim women.

“Instead of just changing laws, the state needs to introduce counter-radicalization strategies to tackle this rising extremism. And I don’t see the government taking such steps, which is alarming,” she says.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to In historic move, blasphemy case against Pakistani girl to be dropped
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2012/1120/In-historic-move-blasphemy-case-against-Pakistani-girl-to-be-dropped
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe