Christian girl accused of burning Koran is cleared of blasphemy

Pakistani court dismisses all charges against her and rules evidence was planted

A court in Pakistan has acquitted a young Christian girl of blasphemy after she was accused of setting fire to a copy of the Koran in a case that sparked international controversy.

In the latest twist to a case that gripped the country, and which campaigners said underlined the need to reform Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws, the court in Islamabad ruled that the Rimsha Masih was not guilty, her lawyer said.

Earlier this summer, the young girl, who is believed to be 14-years-old, was arrested in the nation's capital after a Muslim cleric accused her of desecrating the Koran and furious crowds demanded that she be punished. Rimsha was then held in a maximum security jail, prompting outcry from international rights organisations.

However, she was granted bail in September after the cleric, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, was himself later accused of tampering with evidence and of damaging the Koran to stir up resentment between religious communities.

Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Iqbal Hameed ur Rahman yesterday issued a 15-page judgement in which he threw out the case registered against Rimsha and urged Muslims to be extraordinarily "careful" while levelling such allegations, according to the Agence France-Presse. He said putting Rimsha on trial would have seen the courts "used as a tool for ulterior motive".

A lawyer for Rimsha, Abdul Hameed, said the court had exonerated his client for lack of evidence and dismissed all charges against her, concluding they were based on heresy and incriminated material that was planted on her.

"I am happy that the poor girl's ordeal is now over," he told The Associated Press after the hearing.

An official medical report classified Rimsha as being uneducated and said she was 14, but has a younger mental age. Other reports have suggested she is as young as 11 and suffering from Down's Syndrome. After she was released on bail in September, her family went into hiding in an undisclosed location in Pakistan.

Campaigners say blasphemy laws, which were tightened during the rule of Pakistan's former president Zia ul-Haq and which carry the death penalty, are routinely used to settle scores that have nothing to do with religion. While there are no records of anyone convicted being executed, many people accused of blasphemy have been killed before their case reached the courts.

Christian campaigners claim more than 30 people suspected of blasphemy have been killed by mobs or vigilantes over the past 20 years. Non-Muslims make up less than five per cent of Pakistan's 180 million people.

The government of President Asi Ali Zardari had once intended to amend the laws. Among the proponents of such a move was Salmaan Taseer, the former governor of Punjab province who was shot dead by one of his bodyguards after speaking out. The government subsequently dropped its plans to change the law. Another minister who spoke out, Shahbaz Bhatti, was also killed.

While the lawyer for Rimsha's family said she and her relatives were relieved by the court's decision, the matter may not be over. The prosecution yesterday indicated that it would appeal against the decision in the Supreme Court.

Local police said the case against the cleric will proceed, and he will be tried for making a false accusation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power