PAKISTAN: Muslim cleric now accused of planting incriminating evidence to link a Christian girl to blasphemy

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.

CHRISTIAN GIRL, RIMSHA, 14 CHARGED WITH BLASPHEMY

CNN  The latest development may make it easier for the girl, 14-year-old Rimsha, mentally disabled, 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.

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. Chishti has denied the allegation, authorities said.

Pakistani policemen escort Islamic cleric Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti (2nd L) upon his arrival at a court in Islamabad, arrested on suspicion of evidence-tampering and desecrating the Koran

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.

At least 200 families have fled their homes in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, to save their lives after a young Christian girl was accused of burning the Qur’an. According to the latest reports, Muslims are looting the abandoned houses, setting fire to Christians’ belongings, and they have desecrated the local church building.

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.