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PAKISTAN-ARREST Sep-4-2012 (340 words) With photo. xxxi

Muslim cleric arrested in Pakistan case against Christian girl

By Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The case against a Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy seemed to take a turn in her favor after a Muslim cleric was arrested on suspicion of fabricating evidence against her.

Khalid Jadoon Chishti, the imam or prayer leader who has accused Rimsha Masih of burning pages of the Muslim holy book, was taken into police custody Sept. 2. According to a police official quoted by the Associated Press, witnesses claim the imam tore pages from a Quran and planted them along with burned pieces of paper in the girl's bag.

Rimsha has been in police custody since Aug. 18. Her parents said she is 11 years old and has Down syndrome; a court appointed physician found that she was about 14 and is developmentally delayed.

A Pakistan court delayed her bail hearing until Sept. 1, but postponed it again until Sept. 7 after the judge in the case changed.

The girl's lawyer, Tahir Naveed, told Vatican Radio Sept. 3 that with the arrest of the Muslim cleric, "it is no secret that Rimsha is innocent. This shows that there was a conspiracy."

Naveed said Rimsha's case is just the latest instance of someone misusing Pakistan's strict anti-blasphemy laws to intimidate or persecute others.

"After the arrest of Imam Jadoon, everyone is talking and reflecting on the fact that this law can be used improperly and even abused," Naveed said.

Capuchin Father Francis Nadeem, coordinator of the National Council for Interreligious Dialogue in Lahore, said the charges against the girl appeared to be part of a plot by a local "land mafia."

"Unscrupulous criminals intend to wrest land from Christians and drive them out from Mehrabadi, a suburb of Islamabad where Rimsha's family lives," Father Nadeem told the Vatican's missionary news agency Fides. "This is why they made up the case, blaming an innocent child."

Accusations that a Christian had burned the Quran drew an angry crowd, prompting hundreds of Christian families to flee the neighborhood, church and humanitarian agencies said.

END


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