4th September, 2012
One of Pakistan's most senior Muslim clerics vowed on Monday to protect a 14-year-old, believed to be mentally impaired, Pakistani Christian girl who he suggested may have been falsely accused of blasphemy against Islam.
The unprecedented comments by Hafiz Mohammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi came shorty after an Islamabad court said Rimsha Masih would have to remain in jail until at least 7th September as her bail hearing was adjourned "because of a lawyers strike".
Rimsha, who the cleric called "a daughter of the nation", was detained in Islamabad last month on charges she had been burning pages with verses from the Koran, deemed a holy book by Muslims.
During the turbulent press conference at a central Islamabad hotel, Ashrafi condemned a local imam of the capital's Mehrabadi slum neighborhood for allegedly stashing Koranic papers in the girl‘s bag to ensure her conviction and push out Christians from the area.
The tables turned on Sunday when Imam Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, who accused Rimsha, was himself detained and charges with "blasphemy", punishable by death in Pakistan.
“Our heads are bowed with shame for what Chishti did,” Ashrafi said, flanked by other Muslim leaders, adding that he would ensure her safety after she is released from prison.
Ashrafi, who chairs the influential All Pakistan Ulema Council of Muslim clerics, stressed he would also provide information about the alleged effort to construct an Islamic seminary on properties vacated by fleeing Christians at a later date.
Farrukh H Saif, executive director of Pakistan-based rights group World Vision In Progress (WVIP), told BosNewsLife earlier that the girl could not have known she destroyed Koranic pages.
"The girl claims she was burning garbage and that she did not know a Koranic book was among the papers because she cannot read," Saif added.
Reports that Rimsha has Down syndrome have added to international concerns and pressure on Pakistan's leadership to release her immediately.