Senior Islamic cleric defends Christian girl: “Our Heads are Bowed in Shame”
by Jon Boone (The Sydney Morning Herald)
ISLAMABAD: The Christian girl who was allegedly framed for blasphemy by her local mullah was hailed as a ”daughter of the nation” by one of Pakistan’s most senior Islamic clerics who also vowed to guarantee her safety if she is eventually released from prison.
The heavyweight support for Rimsha Masih from the chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, a grouping of Islamic clerics, is being seen as a remarkable turn of events in a country where individuals accused of insulting Islam are almost never helped by powerful public figures.
In a fiery news conference at a central Islamabad hotel, and flanked by other senior clerics, Hafiz Mohammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi demanded all the organs of the Pakistani state come together to investigate the circumstances surrounding the arrest last month of a girl who it is claimed has Down syndrome.
He also lambasted Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, the imam from the Mehrabadi slum neighbourhood, accused over the weekend of tampering with evidence to ensure the girl’s conviction.
”Our heads are bowed with shame for what Chishti did,” he said.
Later he said Chishti was merely the front man for other individuals ”behind the scene” who wanted to stoke local antagonism against the Christian minority in the area in order to force them to flee.
”I have known for the last three months that some people in this area wanted the Christian community to leave so they could build a madrasa there,” he said.
He said he would divulge more information about the people behind the alleged effort to construct an Islamic seminary on the properties vacated by the Christians at a later date.
The cleric, who has in the past been associated with the Defence of Pakistan Council, which includes members of banned militant groups, was speaking hours after a judge’s decision to further delay a bail hearing for Rimsha until later in the week.
Lawyers acting for Malik Hammad, a man from Rimsha’s neighbourhood who claims to have caught her carrying away the charred remains of a book that included verses from the Koran, said they could not conduct a trial because the Punjab Bar Association was holding a one-day strike.
However, the case against Chishti continued to grow after two more witnesses recorded statements implicating the mullah in a plot to strengthen the case against Rimsha.