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Security personnel shift Rimsha Masih (L) to a helicopter after her release from jail in Rawalpindi on Sept 8, 2012. — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD: Three witnesses who had testified against Khalid Jadoon, a prayer leader who had been accused of adding two pages of the Holy Quran in the burnt pages to strengthen the blasphemy case against Rimsha Masih, on Monday withdrew their testimonies, DawnNews reported.

The witnesses, Khurram Shahzad, Hafiz Mohammad Owais and Danish, in the court of district and sessions judge Islamabad Justice Raja Jawad Abbas, said that the police had coerced them into recording the statements in writing against Jadoon, the Imam of a local mosque of Mehra Jaffer.

The police had recorded the statements of Owais, Shahzad and Danish under section 161 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in which they had endorsed the statement of Hafiz Zubair, another witness in the case.

Subsequently today, the three witnesses again recorded their sworn statements.

Moreover, the court adjourned the hearing in Jadoon's bail plea until Oct 3. Jadoon was arrested on Sept 1 after Hafiz Mohammad Zubair, a prayer caller at the same mosque, testified against him before a magistrate.

On Sept 23, the investigation officer in the blasphemy case had exonerated Rimsha, the minor Christian girl, from the main allegation and declared Jadoon as the prime accused.

The challan which had been submitted by the investigation officer had stated that Jadoon had ripped two pages from the Holy Quran and mixed them in the half burnt pages of a prayer learning book.

The challan had also stated that there were at least three witnesses who had claimed that they had personally observed Jadoon mixing the pages of Quran in the evidence to make the case more strong against Rimsha but there was not a single direct evidence or eyewitness who had claimed to have seen the minor girl burning the pages of the prayer book.

Earlier testimonies of Khurram Shahzad and Hafiz Owais

On Sept 3, Shahzad and Owais recorded their separate statements under CrPC 161 (examination of witness by police), with investigating officer sub-inspector Munir Hussain Jaffery, stating that they saw Jadoon putting some pages of the Holy Quran in a plastic bag, after tearing them.

The sources in the police close to the investigation had told Dawn that the case’s complainant Malik Hammad, who was also a neighbour of the girl, brought a polythene shopper to the mosque carrying ashes and some burnt papers and handed it to them.

Shahzad was offering prayers, while Owais was in Itekaf (meditative seclusion) , but later Hammad took the shopper from them and handed it over to Jadoon who later tore some pages from the Holy Quran and put them in the shopper.

They objected to the act but Jadoon replied: “You are just kids and you do not know how to strengthen a case.”

Later they brought the matter in the knowledge of Hafiz Zubair who also raised an objection over the act, but it was ignored.

Hafiz Zubair’s testimony

Earlier on Sept 1, Zubair, who had claimed being an eye-witness in the case, had in his statement said that he was sitting in Aitekaf (meditation) during the month of Ramazan in the mosque — situated in front of Rimsha’s house.

Zubair had alleged that when Hammad brought the burnt pages of the Holy Quran before Jadoon, the cleric included two pages of the holy verses in the evidence to strengthen the case against the minor girl.

Zubair had said he had tried to stop Jadoon and insisted that the original evidence should be produced against Rimsha before the police.

The witnesses had stated that Jadoon ignored his advice and said that it would make the case stronger and that would lead to the eviction of the Christian girl’s family from the area.

Rimsha Masih case

The case of Rimsha Masih, who was arrested on Aug 18 under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, has gained huge attention because of the girl’s age and questions about her mental capacity.

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.

The girl’s arrest, under the blasphemy laws, 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.