By BosNewsLife Asia Service
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- A leading rights lawyer says he is "disappointed" that a Muslim cleric who "falsely" accused a Christian girl of blasphemy has been released, while several Christians remain in Pakistani jails for allegedly hurting Islamic feelings.
"We were disappointed about the judgment of the [Islamabad] court in the case of Khalid Jadoon Chishti. He tempered the evidence by adding Koranic pages into ashes [to blame the girl] Rimsha Masih of blasphemy," said lawyer Sardar Mushtaq Gill, director of the Legal Evangelical Association Development group.
Masih, 14, was detained in August 2012 and spent three weeks in one of Pakistan's toughest jails, but the case against her was eventually quashed amid international pressure.
She moved to Canada, after the clerk himself was accused of "desecrating the Koran" and "tampering with evidence" against Rimsha.
Yet on Saturday, August 17, the court acquitted Chishti of all charges "as six out of eight eyewitnesses retracted their statements," complained Gill, who closely followed the case.
BIBI BEHIND BARS
At the same time Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, "remains in prison after being sentenced to death in November 2010 after other women claimed she made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed," he said.
Additionally Sawan Masih, a 35-year-old Pakistani street sweeper, was "falsely accused of blasphemy by a close friend." He has been in a jail in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, since March this year and "is now awaiting justice in his release," Gill told BosNewsLife.
"I believe he could be released on bail as the arguments from the prosecution are very weak," he said in an interview with BosNewsLife Tuesday, August 20.
The cases have added concerns about controversial blasphemy legislation in Pakistan, said Gill, who himself is in hiding following death threats from Islamic militants.
"In 2011, politicians Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were assassinated for demanding that the blasphemy law be reformed. This demand still continues by Pakistani Christians and other minority groups," he told BosNewsLife.
THREATS AND KILLINGS
"An accusation of blasphemy commonly subjects the accused and even police, lawyers, and judges to harassment, threats,attacks and extra judicial killings," Gill noted.
Such allegations are "sometimes the prelude to vigilantism and rioting as it happened in Gojra and Lahore" where churches and homes have been destroyed and Christians killed in deadly violence.
"Those who are accused of blasphemy including their family members have to face many hardships and to move from one place to another for their safety," said Gill, who has been defending Christians.
He claimed that the threats can continue "not for years but even for a whole life."
At least 52 people accused of blasphemy have been killed in recent years, according to rights investigators.
"NO PROPER INVESTIGATION"
Gill said Pakistani Christians are often "immediately booked in blasphemy cases without a proper investigation."
However the lawyer acknowledged there has been much pressure on police by Muslims.
"If the accused is [not a Christian but] a Muslim, they have many ways to investigate and try to save them from this...possibly death-sentence carrying blasphemy allegation," he said.
Representatives of Christians, who comprise roughly three percent of Pakistan's over 193 million people, have complained about rising Islamic extremism in the country.
(With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J.Bos)
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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