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Acquittal of child on blasphemy charges good precedent


ISLAMABAD (AsiaNews): Paul Bhatti, the special adviser to the prime minister of Pakistan on national harmony, called the acquittal of Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Catholic girl reported to be suffering from a mental disability, on charges of blasphemy by the High Court in Islamabad, on November 20, a source of double satisfaction.

Bhatti said that legally it is an important precedent in establishing that the law cannot be used for personal satisfaction, a common complaint about abuses of the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.

He added that it could usher in an era where people who attempt to use the law unjustly also risk personal penalties, as they could be charged and brought to trial under the penal code.

The court said it would archive the case against the girl, as the crime never existed, but that it will instigate proceedings against an imam, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, for slander of a minor in order to obtain the expulsion of the Christian community from his neighbourhood and to seize their property.

“It is not a victory,” Bhatti explained. “It is just one element of justice that carries a great message, that those who use the law for personal purposes have been defeated; and to this there is added the certainty that those who make false charges are likely to suffer the same fate and be tried.”

Bhatti explained that he had handled the affair personally in order to control protests or demonstrations by Christians, as has occurred several times in the past.

He said that the street demonstrations only concentrate the matter in the minds of fundamentalists and make things worse.

“In this case,” he pointed out, “I asked for further investigation to avoid public protests.”

Bhatti explained that with the cooperation of government and police force, they did get a satisfactory result, but at the same time, he wanted to dedicate his first success to his assassinated brother, Shahbaz Bhatti.

“I followed his method,” he related, “and his experience, which are proving to be fundamental in my daily work.”

He said that while messages of congratulation have come in from many Christian people, he has received just as many from Muslims.

“They, too sought to express joy and closeness to the acquittal of Rimsha Masih,” he added, saying that she is now in a safe place, along with the rest of her family.

He said that while Masih’s acquittal will not lead to a revision of the law, it does constitute a precedent that will lead to an improvement in the interpretation of the law in cases of blasphemy.

A group of imams, ulema and Muslim religious leaders have confirmed that they have established a working group to introduce adjustments that will prevent abuses in the future.

“I am optimistic that Pakistani society is changing; peace and stability in Pakistan are fundamental also for the rest of the world,” Bhatti concluded.


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