Nov. 20 (Bloomberg) -- A court in Pakistan ordered the scrapping of blasphemy charges against a Christian girl, in a case that triggered worldwide concern over the misuse of controversial laws to target religious minorities.
“The court has ordered to quash the First Information Report against the girl, which means there are no charges against her anymore,” Rana Abdul Hameed, the lawyer representing the 14-year-old, said by telephone from Islamabad today. “That means the girl has been acquitted.”
The girl, accused of burning pages from the Koran, was released on bail on Sept. 7 after police detained an Islamabad imam, or prayer leader, for allegedly framing the minor. The judge said in his order today that no one had seen the girl setting fire to the Islamic holy book, Geo television reported.
Pakistan’s blasphemy law, passed in 1987 under the army rule of General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, stipulates imprisonment and even death for those who insult the Koran or the Prophet Muhammad. While no one has been executed by the state under the law, seven Christians were killed amid riots in 2009 in Punjab province over alleged blasphemy cases.
The case against the girl drew condemnation in Pakistan and overseas from rights activists who have long criticized the blasphemy law for being discriminatory toward religious minorities in predominantly Muslim Pakistan, a country of 190 million people.
In Pakistan, most criminal cases begin when a complainant lodges with police a so-called First Information Report.
Hundreds of members of Islamabad’s Christian community left their homes in the wake of the girl’s arrest saying they feared for their lives. Christians make up just 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s population.
Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, was shot dead by one of his bodyguards last year after he called publicly for changes to the blasphemy law. In March 2011, as many as four gunmen ambushed and killed Shahbaz Bhatti, the 42-year-old minister for minorities’ affairs and himself a Christian.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for killing Bhatti in leaflets found at the scene, saying it was revenge for heading a government-appointed committee to review the blasphemy law.
Controversy over the law escalated in 2010 after a court used it to sentence a Catholic woman, Aasia Bibi, on charges of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Taseer had visited Bibi in jail and persuaded President Asif Ali Zardari to review her case and consider ordering clemency for her.
To contact the reporter on this story: Augustine Anthony in Islamabad at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at email@example.com