On Tuesday, Nov. 20, a Pakistani court dismissed blasphemy charges against 14-year-old Rimsha Masih. The girl was arrested in August after a neighbor accused her of burning pages from the Quran, but the court dismissed the charges citing a lack of evidence.
According to news reports, the police officer who arrested Masih in August played a large part in the court’s decision, testifying that there was no evidence against the girl. With no witnesses, the Islamabad High Court dismissed the charges.
Although Masih’s case has been dropped, the safety of the girl and her family is still a concern. She and her family remain in hiding, and Masih’s lawyers said they themselves are at risk simply for representing the girl.
“They will never be able to go back to their community,” said human rights activist Tahira Abdullah. “They will never be able to go back to their city. Her immediate family may not ever be able to visit their extended family because someone may be lying in wait for them, and I am afraid for her life.”
Masih, who is reportedly mentally challenged, was arrested in a Christian area of Islamabad after a furious crowd demanded that she be punished for blasphemy. The teen was accused by her neighbor and a local mullah, Hafiz Mohammad Khalid Chishti. Chishti has since been accused of planting evidence, burning pages from a Quran and placing them in a charred trash pile.
“Despite the positive outcome of this case, [Masih’s] experience signals the need for Pakistan to reform or repeal its harsh blasphemy law that carries the death penalty, requires neither proof of intent nor evidence to be presented after allegations are made, and includes no penalties for false allegations,” said the chair of The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). “At least 16 people currently are on death row for blasphemy, an estimated 20 others are serving life sentences, and many more people are awaiting trial or have appealed their sentences.”
Sources: BBC, the Guardian, The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom