By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Pakistani authorities have reopened the trial against a mentally challenged Christian girl on charges of “blasphemy” while a Christian mother faces a possible death sentence for allegedly making “derogatory remarks” about Islam’s prophet Mohammed, lawyers told BosNewsLife Saturday, March 23.
“A police investigator asked the Supreme Court in Islamabad to reopen the case” against Rimsha Masih, 14, “saying he was pressured by the government to drop charges against her after an international outcry,” said the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) group.
Rimsha was jailed August 17 in a prison near Islamabad, the capital, after allegedly burning pages with verses of the Koran, viewed as holy book by Muslims. Her detention at Adiala Jail triggered international protests because of her age and a medical report confirming that she was mentally handicapped.
Amid mounting pressure, Rimsha was flown to safety on September 8 and eventually acquitted on the charges, though she remains in hiding. On the outskirts of Islamabad families are afraid to return to their Christian community in the city’s Mehrabadi district because the girl lived there.
Besides Rimsha, who may face life imprisonment, a court is also considering a death sentence against 47-year-old Martha Bibi after years of legal wrangling, BosNewsLife learned.
Bibi, who is married and has 7 children, will face a court in the city of Lahore on March 27, said her lawyer Mushtaq Gill.
“She was detained in January 2007 in her village of Kot Nanak Sigh for allegedly making “derogatory remarks” about Prophet Mohammed in an argument with a Muslim woman,” explained Gill, who is also director of the LEAD advocacy group.
Bibi has always strongly denied the charges.
The blasphemy case was registered at a nearby police station where she “was arrested and put behind bars after being beaten and tortured by Muslims,” the lawyer said.
Though he managed to get her released on bail of 100,000 Pakistani Rupee ($1,000) three months later, she remained concerned about her future, he said.
“The six years of waiting on a possible death sentence has made her sick,” Gill told BosNewsLife “I just met her as we prepared for the trial at the Lahore High Court and she was very tense,” he added.
Gill said the latest legal challenges are part of efforts by authorities to defend the controversial blasphemy laws in the country.
If she is sentenced to death, she will be the second woman in Pakistan facing execution for blasphemy, he said. Asia Bibi, who is not related, has been awaiting her appeal against the death penalty for several years behind bars.
The latest blasphemy trials against Christians come shortly after as many as 180 Christian-owned homes, shops and two churches were burned down by an angry Muslim mob in the city of Lahore this month.
Gill said his group is trying to free Christian Sawan Masih, 26, whose alleged “derogatory remarks” about Islam’s prophet triggered the March 8-9 riots in Lahore’s Joseph Colony.
There has been growing international pressure on Pakistan to overturn the blasphemy laws amid concerns they are misused against minorities, including Christians, or to settle personal disputes.
Fifty two of the accused and their supporters have been murdered in the last two decades, according to rights activists. Even in police custody blasphemy suspects are not safe.
In December last year, an angry mob reportedly broke into a police station in Sindh province and beat a blasphemy suspect to death. He had been accused of burning pages of the Koran.
Earlier in Ahmedpur East in July 2012, a man accused of throwing pages of the Koran on the street was dragged by crowds from a police cell and killed, after being pulled through the streets behind a motorbike.
Two politicians, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salman Taseer, and Christian federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated in 2011 for criticizing the country’s blasphemy legislation.
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