Residents gather outside the house of Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl who was arrested on charges of blasphemy in the low-income neighbourhood of Mehrabad in the suburb of Islamabad. — Photo by AP

ISLAMABAD: In a startling development on Saturday, the Islamabad police claims to have found no evidence or witness to prove that blasphemy accused girl Rimsha Masih was seen desecrating holy papers, according to a copy of the revised charge sheet available with Dawn.com.

In the charge sheet, the police claim that the cleric of a nearby mosque, Mohammad Khalid Chishti, was guilty of tampering with evidence by adding holy pages into a shopping bag the girl had been carrying. The police claim the investigation proves the holy papers had also been burnt.

The evidence is now being sent to a forensic science laboratory in Lahore for further examination.

The Islamabad police submitted the charge sheet in a district and sessions court today.

“We have also told the court that there are witnesses and evidence against the local imam for framing a false blasphemy case against Rimsha,” Investigating Officer Munir Jafri told AFP.

Judge Ghulam Abbas Shah adjourned the case till Monday, Sept 24 to decide on whether Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti should face trial.

Rao Abdur Rahim, the counsel for Rimsha’s neighbour Hammad Malik who had accused her along with Chishti, said he was not satisfied with the police report.

“This report is based on the bad intentions of the investigators and is made to prove Rimsha innocent. But, I will fight the case and make her face trial,” he told AFP.

Rimsha and her family, who fear for life after the blasphemy charges, were moved to an undisclosed location since her release on bail on Sept 8.

The district attorney, who signed the charge sheet along with a note of objections, observed: “Had Khalid Chishti burnt the Holy Quran, prior to adding them in the evidence, he could be declared accused under 196 PPC.”

According to the charge sheet, no witness has so far identified the place where Rimsha was alleged to have burnt the holy papers.

The police also claim that, in reality, it was Rimsha’s six year old younger sister Savera who had come to throw the garbage in front of the house of one Maqbool Ahmed. This account has been testified by two witnesses.

The police are also accusing the complainant of hiding the actual facts from the police.

The police investigation further states that the burnt holy papers were first seen by Mehreen Noor, Maqbool’s daughter, who had told the same to her mother. The burnt pile of papers was then sent to the cleric Mohammad Khalid Chishti through Mehreen Noor.

The police also says that Chishti is “an educated person and knows religion and the sanctity of the Holy Quran.”

Moreover, the police accuse Chishti of deliberately tearing two papers from the Holy Quran to add them into the pile of burnt papers, and preparing a false testimony. Chishti had also signed the testimony as a witness.

The police report further claims that Rimsha, a minor Christian girl, is illiterate and her mental age is not according to her actual age, which is 14.

The case has gained huge attention because of the girl’s age and questions about her mental capacity. It is also a rare instance where someone has been held responsible for an apparently false accusation of blasphemy.

Earlier on Sept 7, the additional district and sessions court of Islamabad had granted bail to the girl. Later on Sept 8, Rimsha was airlifted from Adiyala jail to an unspecified location within Islamabad under the protective custody of police after completion of legal formalities by her lawyers.

The girl belonging to the Christian community is said to be suffering from Down’s Syndrome. She had been arrested on Aug 18 under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, prompting concern from Western governments, the Vatican, and rights groups.

The girl’s arrest had also triggered an exodus of several hundred Christians from her poor neighbourhood on the edge of Islamabad.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject in Pakistan, where 97 per cent of the 180 million population are Muslims, and allegations of desecrating the holy Quran or insulting Islam often provoke public fury.