A COURT in Pakistan has ruled that Rimsha Masih, the young girl
accused of desecrating the Qur'an (
News, 21 September), should appear in a youth court on Monday
The order was made at a court hearing earlier this week, although a
police investigation had concluded that she was innocent.
Rimsha is currently on bail and in hiding with her family; there
are claims that she has fled to Norway. Her lawyers say that they
will appeal against the ruling in the high court in
At a separate hearing on Saturday, police submitted a charge
sheet in which they said that the evidence against her had been
planted by a local imam, Mohammed Khalid Chishti, who has waged a
campaign against the Christian community in a district of
Mehrabadi, Islamabad (
News, 7 September).
A police investigator, Munir Jaffery, said that Mr Chishti had
burned pages of an official Qur'an study guide, the Norani Qaida,
and placed the pages in Rimsha's bag in an attempt to stir up
anti-Christian feeling. "Our investigation shows nothing
implicating Rimsha," Mr Jaffery said, "but there is substantive
proof that the imam tampered with evidence to incriminate the
Mr Chishti's lawyers accuse the police of bowing to
international pressure, and claim that Rimsha has fled to Norway,
in breach of her bail. The district attorney says that he has been
threatened by police.
If Mr Chishti faces charges, it is likely to be for perjury
rather than for desecrating the Qur'an. Under the blasphemy laws in
Pakistan, desecrating the Qur'an carries the death
Last week, the World Council of Churches held a series of open
hearings, to coincide with a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council
in Geneva, on the misuse of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
The hearings brought together Christians, Muslims, and Hindus.
Attenders included the Bishop of Raiwind in the Church of Pakistan,
the Rt Revd Samuel Azariah; and the Secretary of the Federal Board
of Wafaqul Madares (Islamic schools), Moulana Qari Hanif
A communiqué issued after the hearings said that the abuse of
the blasphemy laws in Pakistan had "led to physical violence,
damage, destruction of properties, and loss of life among innocent
people over the years"; and it called for an independent
commission to investigate the laws.
The number of victims of the law had been increasing, it said;
many had been forced to live in hiding. Some charges brought under
the laws had been malicious, stemming from personal enmity.
The blasphemy laws date from 1860, when Pakistan was part of
British-ruled India, and they originally protected all faiths.
They were amended in 1986, as part of an Islamification campaign by
the military ruler of Pakistan at the time, General Muhammad
Zia-ul-Haq, and are now being used, the communiqué says, "as a tool
to settle personal scores through attacks on religious
The chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association,
Wilson Chowdhry, said that the current blasphemy laws were "a
recipe for injustice, corruption and repression", and that merely
"the threat of a blasphemy accusation is a potent weapon."
A CHURCH in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan
has been destroyed by rioting Muslims, angered by a "blasphemous"
film distributed on YouTube (
21 September), writes Gavin Drake. The film, Innocence of
Muslims, or Innocence of Islam, produced in the United States,
portrays the Prophet Muhammad in ways that are offensive to
Muslims, and has sparked protests around the world.
Rioters stormed the St Paul's complex in Mardan last
Friday, after the Pakistani government called a national holiday as
a "day of love for the Prophet Muhammad". They set fire to the
church, and destroyed houses of the clergy and
The Bishop of Peshawar, the Rt Revd Humphrey Peters,
said: "The damage has been very severe, and we will need to
rebuild. We are asking people . . . to keep us in their
The Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, the Rt Revd
Samuel Azariah, who was in Geneva last week for a World Council of
Churches' conference exploring the misuse of Pakistan's blasphemy
laws, condemned the attack. "This news is very damaging to
relations between the communities in Pakistan and around the
People, he said, had the right to protest, "but to
damage property and terrify people in this way is completely wrong.
The government and faith leaders should provide the lead in
The chairman of the British Pakistani Christian
Association, Wilson Chowdhry, said there had been "little response
from leaders in the West. This lack of concern will only serve to
continue the reckless impunity with which extremists operate in