An Islamic cleric has been arrested in Pakistan for framing a young Christian girl who was facing the death penalty for allegedly burning pages of the Koran.
Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti appeared in a court in Islamabad on Sunday after witnesses claimed to have seen him placing pages of the Koran in a bag of ashes Rimsha Masih had been carrying for disposal near her home last month.
Masih – a Downs syndrome sufferer believed to be 14 years of age – was set upon by a mob after she was accused of blasphemy.
She was taken into police custody in the impoverished Mehrabadi neighbourhood in the capital, provoking a storm of protest from rights groups and even religious conservatives.
Reports say local Muslims had been incited after Chishti showed the burnt pages to mosque-goers and led a mob to Rimsha’s hosue.
Dozens of Christian families fled the area in fear following the incident.
Chishti was arrested after one of his assistants said he had witnessed the Mullah placing two pages of the Koran into a plastic bag of ashes in an attempt to implicate the girl and drive Christian families out of the area.
Hafiz Mohammad Zubair told Geo TV: “I asked him what he was doing and he said this is the evidence against them and this is how we can get them out from this area.”
Chishti was brought blindfolded and handcuffed before a court in Islamabad on Sunday morning where he was ordered to remain in police custody for 14 days.
Tahir Naveed Chaudhry from the All Pakistan Minority Committee told The Guardian it had always maintained that evidence was planted on her.
“And now it is proved that the whole story was only designed to dislocate the Christian people,” he said. “He must be prosecuted under the blasphemy law as it will set a precedent against anyone else who tries to misuse that law.”
Also on Sunday the head of the country’s Ulema council, a board of senior clerics, demanded the punishment of Chishti and the immediate release of Rimsha.
Chishti had once appeared on national television to complain about the noisiness of church services in Mehrabadi, saying it had disturbed Muslim residents.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are among the most draconian in the Muslim world.
Rights groups say the laws have often been used to settle vendettas and property disputes.
– Viji Alles