By BosNewsLife Asia News
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A Pakistani Muslim cleric remained in police custody late Sunday, September 2, on charges he stashed pages of a book with verses from the Koran in the bag of a mentally impaired Christian girl to make it appear she burned what Muslims regard as a holy book.
His detention Sunday, September 2, came just hours before 14-year-old Rimsha Masih was expected for a bail hearing amid mounting international pressure to release her immediately.
The clerk, Khalid Chishti, denied the charges or that he was looking for way to push the Christians out of the impoverished Islamabad neighborhood. “I have not done anything wrong. This is all fabrication,” he told reporters while being led to court in shackles, wearing a white blindfold.
Trial observers said the imam’s arrest could release the girl, who supporters say is mentally handicapped, out of prison, where she faces a life sentence or even the death penalty for charges she desecrated the Koran.
As her procedures began last month, thousands already fled the slum area where she grew up amid attacks following her arrest, rights investigators told BosNewsLife earlier.
FIVE HOUSES BURNED
“We found that five houses were burned and one church was destroyed,” said Farrukh H. Saif, executive director of Pakistani rights group World Vision In Progress (WVIP), in an interview with BosNewsLife. “Bibles [have been torn] to pieces and a [church] cross is broken”, the official said.
Elsewhere in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi the Catholic St. Matthew’s Church was “attacked by unknown extremists at 2 a.m. local time,” August 20, added Saif, citing investigators.
“We all are suffering,” said Somera Ashraf, The Associated Press news agency quoted a a Christian woman from the girl’s neighborhood as saying.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan chairperson Zohra Yusuf said she hopes the court will take strict action against the cleric to deter misuse of the blasphemy laws against even minors.
Dutch parliamentarians of the ChristianUnie, or’ChristianUnion’ party, urged the Netherlands and the European Union last month to pressure Pakistan to release Rimsha and demand an end to the blasphemy laws.
The case has also underscored concerns over thousands of children who rights activists say are languishing in Pakistani jails, often without proper legal representation, or just forgotten by what critics view as a corrupt and bureaucratic judicial system.
Christians comprise less than five percent of Pakistan’s mostly Muslim population of 180 million people and their representatives have urged the government to offer them more protection.