10/17/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Rimsha Masih's trial adjourned to 14 November as anti-Christian violence continues

The High Court in Islamabad delays the trial before deciding whether to drop the blasphemy charges or not. The girl's lawyers want the case thrown out of court. In Karachi, a mob of extremists attack St Francis Catholic Church. In Faisalabad, Christians praying for Malala Yousafzai come under attack.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - The High Court in Islamabad extended to 14 November the restraining order against the trial of Rimsha Masih, a mentally challenged Christian girl charged with blasphemy. The ruling came at a hearing on a petition filed by the accused girl's lawyers to quash the First Information Report (FIR) registered against her on the ground that the charges are false and baseless. Meanwhile, anti-Christian violence continues as attacks are reported against Karachi's St Francis Catholic Church and Faisalabad's Bawa Chak Presbyterian Church.

At the end of the hearing, the court extended the restraining order until 14 November, directing counsels to conclude their arguments at the upcoming hearing. In his remarks, one of the defence lawyers reiterated his client's demand for dismissal of the case since there was no offence and that Rimsha should be released.

He added that the imam at the Jaffer Mosque, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, fabricated the story in order to force out minority Christians from their homes and seize their assets, and that if anyone committed blasphemy, it was the imam according to the testimony of three witnesses, who however later retracted.

The irony is that the imam who deliberately desecrated the Qur'an is free on bail. His lawyers are trying to delay proceedings. Prosecutors in the case have indicated that they are not planning to try the imam on blasphemy charges, which goes to show, critics point out, of how the 'black law' is used arbitrarily against minorities, political adversaries, and business competitors.

Meanwhile, Pakistani Christians and their places of worship are still targeted. On 12 October, a mob of hundreds attacked St Francis Catholic Church in Karachi. The building suffered external damage but the attackers were not able to get inside. Worshippers later spoke about the fright they experienced as the local bishop, Mgr Joseph Coutts, tried to lessen their fear by organising support rallies and slamming the extremists who attacked.

A second incident was reported last Sunday in Faisalabad. At 11 am, Muslim fanatics attacked the Bawa Chak Presbyterian Church. The attack was sparked by an incident in which a 26-year-old Muslim man was accidentally struck by a cricket ball during a match by Christian teenagers.

The altercation that followed led to a full blown attack by a mob of Muslims wielding sticks, stones and guns against the local Presbyterian church during Sunday mass. Some children and women were injured during the assault. Most residents of the area locked themselves in their homes to avoid further violence.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Christian activist and lawmaker Joel Aamir Sahotra said the whole affair was very sad since the attack against the church occurred during a special Mass for Malala Yousafzai, the Muslim girl wounded by the Taliban who is now recovering in a British hospital. This token of solidarity was for all Muslims, who in response attack minorities.

For Fr Nisar Barkat, director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace in Faisalabad, "violence has penetrated people's minds because of biased teachings" in mosques by extremist imams and religious leaders. For this reason, he wants the government to enforce the law and promote peace and harmony.

 (Shafique Khokhar contributed to the article.)

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