19th August, 2013

A court in Islamabad on Saturday dismissed charges against a Muslim cleric arrested on suspicion of framing a Christian girl for blasphemy.

Khalid Jadoon, leader of a mosque in the Meherabadi suburb of Islamabad, had been charged with desecrating the Koran and planting false evidence " pages ripped from the Koran and mixed into half-burnt pages of an Arabic-language, prayer-learning book " against 14-year-old Rimsha Masih. With a medical report showing her mental age as younger than her 14 years and the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court calling the charge against her "fake allegations," Rimsha was acquitted on 20th November, 2012; she has since fled to Canada to escape Islamist fury.
Jadoon was acquitted after seven witnesses against him retracted their statements, sources said.

Attorney Tahir Naveed, who had represented Rimsha, told Morning Star News from Sargodha that Jadoon"s acquittal was expected due to poor police procedure and pressure from Islamists.

"The court freed Jadoon because the police failed to assure the witnesses that they would not be harmed," Naveed said. "Moreover, the trial court judges are also under immense pressure when hearing blasphemy cases."

Attorneys said police had failed to properly collect evidence in the case and instead relied solely on witness statements. Witnesses had stated that Jadoon added pages of the Koran to a bag of ashes Rimsha was carrying.
Before her case was transferred to juvenile court, initially Rimsha was charged as an adult, in which case the charge of desecrating the Koran would have carried a life sentence, 25 years in Pakistan. Arrested in August 2012, she was kept in a high security prison in Rawalpindi for nearly three weeks before her release on bail after allegations surfaced from residents of her neighborhood that Jadoon had planted false evidence because he wanted to force Christian families out of the area.

Jadoon"s lawyer, Wajid Gillani, told Morning Star News by phone that Islamabad District and Sessions Judge Raja Jawad Abbas had ruled that there was insufficient evidence for a case against his client.

"All the witnesses told the judge that they had been forced by the investigation officer, Sub-Inspector Munir Jaffery, to record statements against Jadoon," Gillani said. "Jaffery had threatened them that he would involve them in fake cases if they did not heed his directions. The imam is an educated and honorable man, and when I took up his defense, he swore on the Koran that he had not tampered with the evidence. Rimsha Masih did commit blasphemy, but she was absolved of the charges under pressure from the international Christian lobby and media."

Gillani said that Jadoon had decided not to serve in the area"s mosque after the "humiliation" meted out to him by police. "My client also fears that Sub-Inspector Jaffery will involve him in more such fake cases," he added.

Rimsha was arrested after a furious crowd demanded she be punished for desecrating the Koran. She and her family had to go into hiding after her release from jail in September 2012.

The case provoked widespread international concern about the application of Pakistan"s widely condemned blasphemy laws and the status of members of minority religions in the nearly 96 per cent Muslim country.

For more, see www.morningstarnews.org.

- Morning Star News