11/20/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Pakistani Christians happy about Rimsha Masih verdict, Islamists talk about "manipulation"

by Jibran Khan
For the bishop of Islamabad, the ruling is a "great development." Now a law to end blasphemy abuses is needed. A Lahore priest sees the decision as a legal milestone. Islamists however are angered, blaming the government for putting pressures on the court.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Most Pakistanis have welcomed the court's decision to drop charges against Rimsha Masih. Christian and Muslims have praised the court for its decision, a "great development" according to Islamabad Bishop Mgr Rufin Anthony. However, Islamist extremists cannot hide their anger at the ruling, and accuse the government of putting pressures on the court to get the sentence it wanted.

The Islamabad High Court today, citing a lack of evidence, threw out all charges against Rimsha Masih, the 14-year-old Catholic girl accused of breaking the 'black law'. The case against Khalid Jadoon Chishti, the imam who falsely accused the girl in order to provoke the expulsion of Christians to seize their goods, homes and assets, was not however dismissed.

When it broke out, the case caused worldwide outcry, given the girl's young age and the clear proof that it was based on manipulation and false testimony.

A "great development," Mgr Rufin Anthony told AsiaNew. With this decision, "We saw the court take a clear stand" despite "huge pressures" from extremist groups.

For the bishop of Islamabad, new, clearer legislation is needed to put a stop to the abuses committed in the name of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. "Minorities have been targeted for far long enough," he explained.

"This is indeed a bold decision," said Fr John Mall, from the Diocese of Lahore (Punjab). In this case, "justice has prevailed."

Now, the clergyman hopes the authorities will do something about the other cases still pending, "especially in central Punjab," where minorities suffer under the joke of discrimination.

Fr James John, from the Diocese of Multan, also hopes to see some changes. "There is a long list of innocent people in jail for blasphemy. They too must be saved. Rimsha has become the symbol of change for Pakistan's minorities."

Not everyone in Pakistan has welcomed the court's decision, especially among extremist groups. Unlike past cases, they are now the ones complaining about undue pressures on the courts.

For example, Maulana Mehfooz Khan, from the Islamic Ideology Council, claims that the "judiciary was pressurised in this decision." In his view, a heavy-handed "government machinery" has had "an effect on witnesses," whose statements were manipulated.

"We have our reservations regarding the decision" he said. "Although we are against the misuse of the blasphemy law, it is unacceptable for the judiciary to be threatened when it has to decide."

Khan's statement is strange to say the least given the fact that until now protests by Muslim fundamentalists have led to arbitrary arrests, summary convictions and extrajudicial murders, all in the name of the 'black law'.

One case to illustrate this involves Asia Bibi, a 46-year-old mother of five. Still on death row three years after her sentence, she is still waiting for the court to hear her appeal because of pressures from extremists who want her dead.

Then there is impunity against prosecution. Many people who took the law in their own hands, individually or in a group, are still at large despite having killed or destroyed property (like in Koriyan and Gojra, in 2009), or stolen assets and properties, all in the name of the blasphemy law, and this owing to the silence, if not the complicity of police and courts.

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