Pakistan Rimsha blasphemy case dropped

Security officials surrounding Rimsha Rimsha was taken to a secret location after being released on bail

A court in Pakistan has dropped a controversial blasphemy case against a Christian girl accused by her neighbour of burning pages from the Koran.

The 14-year-old girl, known as Rimsha, was held in a maximum security jail in August, prompting global concern.

Her arrest followed accusations by a Muslim cleric who is now facing allegations that he planted evidence.

Rimsha's lawyer said the case had been a misuse of law. Her family received death threats and went into hiding.

There are fears that even though the case has been dropped, Rimsha and her family will not be safe in Pakistan.

Analysis

Rimsha and her family are in hiding, and the court verdict - rare as it is - is unlikely to change that.

In her poor rubbish-strewn neighbourhood in Islamabad, no-one expects her to return. Several Muslim neighbours made it clear she would not be welcome if she did. The authorities say Rimsha and her family will continue to get protection.

Human rights activist Tahira Abdullah says they'll need it: "They will never be able to go back to their community. They will never be able to go back to their city. Her immediate family may not ever be able to visit their extended family because someone may be lying in wait for them and I am afraid for her life."

Since 1990 about 40 people suspected of blasphemy have been killed by vigilantes.

Rimsha's lawyers say they will continue to be at risk, because they represented her. They say Rimsha herself will always live in fear.

Outcry

Rimsha, who doctors said had a younger mental age than her 14 years, was arrested in August in a Christian area of the capital, Islamabad, after a furious crowd demanded she be punished.

Following an outcry over the case, she was released on bail in September - an extremely rare move in blasphemy cases.

At Tuesday's hearing, all charges against her were thrown out by the Islamabad High Court for lack of evidence, lawyers said.

The judges had concluded the charges were based on "incriminated material that was planted in the girl's possession", said Abdul Hameed for the defence, the Associated Press reports.

Prosecutors have the right to appeal in the Supreme Court.

The case against the Muslim cleric accused of framing her will proceed, say local police. He will be tried for making a false accusation.

There has been no word yet from Rimsha and her family, who remain in hiding, at an undisclosed location, the BBC's Orla Guerin in Islamabad says.

Human rights campaigner Xavier P William welcomed the decision to drop the case against her, but pointed out that she and her family had been "forced to live in hiding fearing for their lives".

Pakistan's blasphemy laws

  • After partition in 1947, Pakistan inherited offences relating to religion which were first codified by India's British rulers in 1860
  • In the 1980s, clauses were added to the laws by the military government of General Zia-ul Haq
  • One clause recommends life imprisonment for "wilful" desecration of the Koran, another says blasphemy is punishable by death or life imprisonment
  • Muslims constitute a majority of those booked under these laws, followed by the minority Ahmadi community
  • A majority reportedly support the idea that blasphemers should be punished, but there is little understanding of what religious scripture says as opposed to how the modern law is codified

"In Pakistan, even being accused of blasphemy is equivalent to being sentenced," he told the BBC. "This is the irony that justice comes only under international pressure. The lower courts have completely surrendered to extremists' pressure because of the state's inability to protect them."

'She's guilty'

In Rimsha's neighbourhood, her Muslim neighbours were reluctant to speak on camera about her case. One man leaving afternoon prayers said the judgement was wrong. Others said they would accept the verdict.

Another Muslim man said: "We saw what happened. We know she's guilty but the court has let her off."

Members of the local Christian community told our correspondent the area was still tense and they were fearful. One man said that anyone speaking out in Rimsha's favour would get threats from Muslim neighbours. Another said they were still unable to hold mass in their local church.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97% of the population are Muslim.

Christian campaigners say more than 30 people - suspected of blasphemy - have been killed by mobs or vigilantes over the past 20 years.

Critics say the controversial laws are misused all too often, to persecute minorities or settle scores.

Last year two leading politicians were assassinated after speaking out against the legislation.

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