[Ecumenical News International] Church officials and Christian activists in Pakistan said they were encouraged by the arrest of a Muslim cleric on charges of framing an illiterate Christian teenager on blasphemy charges.
“This is a very positive development,” Victor Azariah, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan (NCCP), told ENInews Sept. 4 from his office in Lahore.
“There is a strong demand even in the media now to end the abuse of the blasphemy law. We hope this will lead to a positive outcome,” said Azariah, reacting to the Sept. 2 arrest of Muslim cleric Khalid Chishti on the charge of framing Christian girl Rimsha Masih.
The arrest of the illiterate and mentally challenged girl 10 days earlier had evoked widespread condemnation in the Pakistani media. There were calls for an end to abuses of the law, which criminalizes criticism of Islam or abuse of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.
According to police reports, eyewitnesses said the arrested cleric had torn and planted pages of Quran in the girl’s bag, which held burned trash papers.
A mob had gathered to torch the girl’s house. In addition, more than 300 Christians in the Islamabad suburb had fled to escape mob violence following repeated announcement of the “blasphemy” on loudspeakers of the local mosque.
Reports said the accusation was made to chase Christians out of the area.
“This is a big development in the fight against the abuse of blasphemy law,” Joseph Francis, founding director of CLAAS (Centre for Legal Aid Assistance-Settlement) told ENInews.
“For the first time, we have a crystal clear case of how the blasphemy law is misused,” said Francis, whose organization has extended legal support to 102 people, most of them Muslims, charged with blasphemy.
“An overwhelming majority of the blasphemy allegations are aimed at settling personal enmity, business jealousy and grabbing property,” Francis said.