Setback for Christian Girl Facing Blasphemy Charges in Pakistan
Setback for Pakistani teen facing blasphemy charges
The juvenile court hearing of Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian who spent nearly three weeks in a Pakistani prison for allegedly burning pages of the Quran, was postponed on Monday, CNN reports. Rimsha was released from prison on bail in early September when witnesses testified that a local imam had planted the desecrated pages of the Quran in a bag that Rimsha was carrying to the trash. Three of those witnesses, however, recanted their statements, raising concerns that Rimsha may now face a more severe punishment. Rimsha is scheduled to reappear in court on October 17.
By Reza Sayah and Nasir Habib
10/1/2012 Pakistan (CNN)- Three witnesses whose testimony could absolve a 14-year-old Pakistani girl facing life in prison have changed their statements.
It’s the latest twist in the case of Rimsha Masih, a Christian teenager who was charged more than a month ago under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws for allegedly burning pages of Islam’s holy book for cooking fuel. She has denied the charges.
The three witnesses initially told police they saw Khalid Jadoon Chishti, a Muslim cleric, tear pages out of a copy of the Quran and put them with police evidence that led to the charges against Rimsha.
But they recanted those statements on Monday at a bail hearing for the cleric, according to the imam’s lawyer, Wajid Ali Gilani. A fourth witness stood by his initial statement.
The witnesses are a critical part of the police investigation that determined last week that the imam framed the teen. Based on that investigation and a lack of witnesses, her lawyers are now appealing to have the blasphemy charges dismissed.
The teen’s case has sparked international outcry against the Pakistani government, with some saying the blasphemy laws are used to settle scores and persecute religious minorities.
Islamabad’s police chief accused the three witnesses of lying to the court on Monday, and said investigators never pressured the witnesses when they gave their initial statements against the cleric.
“If they have changed their statements, they are just lying,” Chief Bin Yamin said.