Skip to main content

Police: Muslim cleric framed girl in Pakistan blasphemy case

From Nasir Habib, CNN
updated 10:47 AM EDT, Sun September 2, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The imam involved in the case is himself accused of descrating a Quran
  • Rimsha, a teenaged girl, is accused of burning Islamic religious verses
  • The case has heightened religious tensions in Pakistan
  • Pakistani authorities are under pressure to guarantee her safety

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani police say a Muslim cleric planted evidence to link a Christian girl to blasphemy -- a new twist in a case that has fanned flames of religious tension in the country and attracted worldwide interest.

The imam, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, will himself face blasphemy charges for tearing pages out of a Quran to use as evidence against the girl, Islambad police chief Bin Yamin said.

The latest development may make it easier for the girl, 14-year-old Rimsha, to be released on bail at her next court hearing.

Police arrested Rimsha last month after a neighbor accused her of burning pages containing texts from the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

Cleric accuser arrest in blasphemy case

Rimsha had two shopping bags with her: one containing ashes and the other, the partially burned pages, police said. She had gathered the paper as fuel for cooking, authorities said.

Even though Rimsha's lawyer said no one actually saw the girl burning the papers, the neighbor went to Chishti -- the neighborhood cleric -- with the bags for safekeeping as evidence.

Chishti wasn't certain that simply burning pages with texts from the Quran would be enough to convict Rimsha on blasphemy charges, said Munir Jaffery, the investigating officer in the case.

So, the imam added two pages from the holy book itself to the bag to bolster the case, Jaffery said.

Police arrested Chishti on Saturday after three witnesses told a judge about the imam's actions.

He was sent to jail for 14 days, accused of evidence tampering.

Chishti has denied the allegation, authorities said.

Yamin, the police chief, drew a distinction between the accusations against the two, saying Rimsha is a simple-minded minor, while the imam is highly educated in religious studies and indulged in the act of blasphemy willfully.  

Insulting Islam provokes widespread and immediate reaction in Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim nation. Its controversial blasphemy law makes the crime punishable by death. Critics have said the legislation is being used to entrap minorities.

Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, who criticized the law, was shot to death by his security guard last year. A Pakistani court then suspended the guard's death sentence.

In Rimsha's case, about 150 people gathered on August 17 -- the day she was arrested -- in the area where the neighborhood's Christian population lives and threatened to burn down their houses, police said.

Her relatives have gone into hiding.

During a tense hearing Saturday, Muslim lawyers demanding that Rimsha remain in jail got into a shouting match with the judge. They provided a list of reasons the girl should be detained, including questioning whether the girl gave her lawyer the power of attorney.

A judge ordered investigators to get more details on her power of attorney and postponed the hearing to Monday.

Before Saturday, a decision was supposed to come Thursday, but was deferred so authorities could answer questions about her medical history.

"All these are the delaying tactics by the lawyers of the complainant to keep the girl in jail," said her lawyer, Tahir Naveed Choudhry.

Her lawyers dashed into a car and sped off after the hearing Saturday for safety reasons. Rimsha did not attend.

Pakistani authorities have come under pressure to guarantee Rimsha's safety amid concerns that if she is released on bail, angry Muslims will seek retaliation.

Choudhry has sought bail, saying she is legally a minor and should be reunited with her parents rather than kept in a jail with adults.

He cited a report by an independent medical board stating that the girl is 14. The doctors who examined her also concluded that her mental age was lower than her chronological age and she suffers from Down syndrome, he said.

Police have said the girl is illiterate and denied knowing there were Quran verses on the documents she allegedly burned.

Choudhry says he expects the trial to last as long as two years. Rimsha would remain in custody for its duration if bail is denied, he said.

If she is tried as a minor, she might receive a milder sentence if convicted. As an adult, she faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for blasphemy, the lawyer said.

The imam's arrest may prompt a reexamination of the allegations against the girl, authorities said Sunday.

"We have strong evidence against (the cleric)," said Naveed Chaudhry, an adviser to Pakistan's president. "(Rimshi's) lawyer is going to court for bail. She might be released by Monday based on this evidence."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT