Rimsha's blasphemy trial delayed to Oct. 17
A Pakistan court ruled Sept. 24 that Rimsha Masih is 14 and is to be tried in a juvenile court beginning Oct. 1. But when the court convened on Oct. 1, the prosecution team said its lawyer was out of town. The court delayed the trial until Oct. 17.
- By Open Doors News
This Storify contains updates as of 10/01/12 15:00 GMT
The situation now
- The trial of Rimsha Masih in juvenile court has been delayed to Oct. 17. Representatives of the prosecution against the girl told the Islamabad High Court on Monday that its attorney was not in the city. The court granted a delay.
The case against the Pakistani girl shifted to the juvenile court last month, when, on Sept. 22, police submitted their determination to the court that there was no evidence to support the accusation that Rimsha had burned any Quranic texts. On Sept. 24, the court ordered her case transferred to the juvenile system, where potential penalties are much less severe, and instructed prosecutors to submit a new set of charges appropriate to the juvenile court. The juvenile court was scheduled to begin consideration of the case Oct. 1.
In their report clearing Rimsha, police also submitted evidence implicating Khalid Jadoon Chishti, imam of a local mosque, based on testimony gathered from members of the mosque. His next court date also was scheduled for Oct. 1. At the hearing, at least two people whom police had said provided witness testimony against Chishti instead submitted affidavits claiming they didn't see the imam desecrating any holy texts, and that their police had tortured them into providing their initial statements. The court has scheduled a bail hearing for Chishti for Oct. 3.
The whole story, from the beginning
- Rimsha lived in Sector G-12 of Islamabad, an area that one news report said is known as Umarra Jafar, and which AFP reported is called Mehrabad.
- Agence France-Press published a succinct recap of what happened:
A Christian girl with Down's Syndrome has been arrested on blasphemy charges in Pakistan, accused of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Koran, police and activists said on Sunday [Aug. 19].
Police arrested Rimsha . . . on Thursday after she was reported holding in public burnt pages which had Islamic text and Koranic verses on them, a police official told AFP.
According to the New York Times in a report published Monday, Aug. 20:
Malik Amjad, landlord of the family’s rented house, said the controversy started early last week after his nephew saw [the girl] holding a burned copy of the Noorani Qaida. The nephew informed a local cleric, Khalid Jadoon, Mr. Amjad said.
. . . Mr. Amjad said the incident bothered few local residents initially and caught fire only at the instigation of the cleric and two conservative shopkeepers.
On Aug. 22, the Washington Post published an account that does a good job capturing just how difficult it was to get at the truth:
The incident involving the girl happened Thursday afternoon, evidently while she was gathering trash — but beyond that, everything is in dispute. Some locals claim to have witnessed her and her mother burning the entire Koran.
But Tahir Muhammad, a 30-year-old shop owner and landlord, said the girl found just one page of the holy book while cleaning a house, mixed it with other papers and burned it.
A 10-year-old neighborhood girl said she saw the whole thing and took the ashes to the mosque — with no pages of the Koran extant. In interviews Sunday, two men at the mosque said that only ashes remained and that the imam mixed in some pages himself before turning over the “evidence” to police.
The girl was arrested and jailed after angry crowds threatened to burn Christian homes in the area, the BBC reported. Some sources, cited anonymously by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, wanted to set her on fire.
After an initial court appearance, she was held in detention, a move police said they made to protect the girl from the mob. Hundreds of Christians who live in the sector of the city fled to other homes around Islamabad to avoid being caught up in Islamic indigation. Zeenews.com, an Indian website, reported that angry Muslims beat the girl's parents, and have burned several Christian homes in the area. Some reports say her parents have been placed in protective custody as well.
Click here to see a comprehensive list of news reports about the the arrest and its aftermath.
- In a court hearing Aug. 28, results of a medical examination of Rimsha were revealed, and concluded she is 14 years old. Her lawyer, Tahir Naveed Chaudry (pictured above), told the judge the report ought to force Rimsha's case into Pakistan's juvenile court system, and also qualify her for release on bail. If tried in the adult court system, a person accused of blasphemy faces the possibility of a death sentence.
The court did not release Rimsha on Aug. 28, and held another hearing on Aug. 30. At that hearing, a lawyer representing Rimsha's accuser hinted strongly that there would be violence if the girl were released on bail and her case transferred out of the adult court system:
"This girl is guilty,” said Rao Abdu Raheem, a lawyer for the man who has accused the girl of blasphemy against Islam. “If the state overrides the court, then God will get a person to do the job.”
Naveed responded that Raheem's remarks amounted to "an open threat." Another court hearing was scheduled for Monday, Sept. 3, in Islamabad.
- But that hearing never took place because the case took an even more dramatic turn Sept. 2. From Reuters:
[O]n Sunday [Sept. 2] police official Munir Hussain Jafri said a cleric had been taken into custody after witnesses reported he had torn pages from a Koran and planted them in Masih's bag beside burned papers.
The imam, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, appeared briefly in court on Sunday before he was sent to jail for a 14-day judicial remand.
- The arrest of the imam intensified the focus on Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws, which carry a death sentence for anyone found guilty of insulting the prophet Muhammad.
- On Sept. 7, the court ordered Rimsha to be released into protective custody, on bail security of approx. $10,500.
The girl was whisked away on a military-piloted helicopter and was reunited with her parents in a location her lawyers have not disclosed in the interest of the family's safety.
Robinson Asghar, aide to the Minister for National Harmony, told Reuters there are no plans to send Masih abroad. Prosecution lawyers said this was a risk, as a result of the prominence the case has received in international media. On Sept. 24 prosecutors claimed she had been relocated to Norway.
Reaction to the case
- Rimsha's arrest drew widespread criticism, and was noted with concern in diplomatic circles, including the U.S. State Department. At least one human-rights group said the girl should have been treated under Pakistan's laws for children. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zadari, pictured above, took a direct interest in the case. According to Press Trust of India:
He directed the authorities to protect the life and property of everyone and said no one should be allowed to take the law into his hands.
Zardari called for "protecting everyone, particularly vulnerable sections of society, from any misuse of the blasphemy law", said presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar.
The President said blasphemy by anyone cannot be condoned but no one will be allowed to misuse the blasphemy law for settling personal scores, Babar said.
The full Press Trust of India story is below:
- Media response ranged from the sneering:
- . . . to more contemplative reflections on what Rimsha's arrest portends for Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws:
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