Police in Pakistan have arrested a Muslim cleric on charges of planting evidence against a young Christian girl detained under the country's anti-blasphemy law. The girl is accused of burning verses from the Koran.
Pakistani police on Sunday said that Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti had been arrested after his assistants turned him in for allegedly trying to frame the young Christian girl.
Chishti supposedly added pages from the Koran to the pages that the young Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, allegedly burned. He filed the original evidence against Masih and serves as the imam at the mosque in her poor Islamabad suburb, Mehrabad.
"Witnesses complained that he had torn pages from a Koran and placed them in her bag which had burned papers," police official Munir Hussain Jafri told the Reuters news agency.
'Conspiracy, not a mistake'
Chishti claims that he originally received reports from villagers that Rimsha had burned Koranic verses and subsequently turned the girl in to police in order to avoid a violent incident.
"People were demanding to burn their house," he said. "But I went to police and called them to avoid a major incident."
Chishti has claimed that Rimsha was aware of what she did and had confessed.
"She did it knowingly, this is a conspiracy and not a mistake," he said. "She confessed to what she did."
Rimsha was arrested on August 16 on blasphemy charges after she was allegedly caught holding burnt pages of Koranic verses in public.
There are conflicting reports regarding Rimsha's age and mental state. She is reportedly between 11 and 14 years old. Some media reports say she has Down's Syndrome.
Under Pakistan's blasphemy law, anyone who defames Islam or the Prophet Mohammad commits a crime and can face the death penalty.
Convictions under the law are common, but the death penalty has never been used in a blasphemy case. Critics of the law say it is often used to settle personal vendettas.
The reports that Rimsha had violated the anti-blasphemy law sparked anger among Muslims in Mehrabad, leading to public demonstrations demanding her punishment. Many Christians initially fled the suburb for fear of reprisals.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zadari had previously said that he took "serious note" of the case and called for the interior minister to submit a report on it. Zadari's government has been criticized by Western nations for not reforming the anti-blasphemy law.
Pakistan's population of 190 million people is 95 percent Muslim, with a small minority population of Hindus and Christians.
slk/tj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)