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Paul Bhatti hopes for end to blasphemy law abuse

Published Sep 04, 2012 12:17pm

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Minister for National Harmony Paul Bhatti. Bhatti is Pakistan’s only Christian cabinet minister. His brother and predecessor Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down last year for speaking out against the blasphemy law. —File Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD: The arrest of a Muslim cleric for tampering with evidence against a Christian girl accused of blasphemy will help stop the abuse of Pakistan’s strict laws on insulting Islam, a cabinet minister said.

The young girl, Rimsha Masih, has been in custody for nearly three weeks after she was accused of burning pages containing verses from the Quran in a case that has prompted worldwide concern.

The affair took an unexpected twist on Saturday when the imam who first gave police evidence against her was accused by his deputy of adding pages from the Quran to the burnt papers taken from Rimsha.

Activists say the legislation is often abused to settle personal vendettas, and even unproven allegations can prompt a violent public response – in July a mob stormed a police station in central Pakistan to seize and lynch a mentally unstable man accused of burning the Quran.

But it is rare to see anyone investigated for making a false allegation or interfering with evidence of blasphemy.

“It is a good omen. The deputy imam has revealed the truth and it will be helpful to deal with the future blasphemy cases,” Paul Bhatti, the Minister for National Harmony told AFP in an interview on Monday.

“The disclosure about the tampering with the evidence will discourage future accusers to misuse this law.”

Bhatti is Pakistan’s only Christian cabinet minister. His brother and predecessor Shahbaz was gunned down last year for speaking out against the blasphemy law.

Rimsha, who is “uneducated” and has a mental age of less than 14 according to a medical report, will remain in a high-security prison until Friday at the earliest – by which time she will have spent 22 days in custody.

Judge Muhammad Azam Khan, who has repeatedly delayed bail proceedings for Rimsha, again adjourned the matter on Monday after the lawyer for her accuser asked for a stay to show solidarity with a provincial lawyers’ strike.