Rimsha Masih Receives Pakistan's First Exoneration from Blasphemy Charges
Update (July 2): World Watch Monitor reports that Rimsha Masih, the teenage Christian girl who was exonerated of blasphemy charges earlier this year, and her family have relocated to Canada.
Working behind the scenes to help them move was Peter Bhatti, executive director of International Christian Voice and the older brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, the former Pakistani minister for minority affairs, "and a high-profile critic of the way the country's anti-blasphemy laws were being used to marginalize Pakistan's religious minorities, including Christians. Shahbaz was assassinated in 2011; a letter left at the scene said those who try to change Pakistan's blasphemy laws would be killed."
Update (Jan. 16):Pakistan's Supreme Court has dismissed a final appeal in against Rimsha Masih in her blasphemy case, effectively ending all legal proceedings on the issue. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports, "The Supreme Court is the highest court in Pakistan so the prosecution has now exhausted its appeal options."
World Watch Monitor reports that "though Rimsha now is legally free, Christian lawyers say she and her family have no future in Pakistan, where their lives will always remain at risk."
Asia News reports that Federal Minister Paul Bhatti told the news service that "he was satisfied by the decision, which confirms that 'Rimsha Masih is innocent.'"
From CT's initial report (Nov. 20, 2012):
An Islamabad court has officially dropped the high-profile case against Rimsha Masih, the teenage Pakistani Christian girl accused of defiling the Qur'an. Masih, who was arrested in August, was originally charged with blasphemy.
"This is the first case of its kind when a person charged under the strict blasphemy laws is exonerated from the accusation," said Naveed Chaudry, one of her lawyers. "This case has also brought for the first time a debate on how these laws are misused to target innocent people."
Masih's arrest had prompted widespread international condemnation of Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari ordered an investigation, and said the law must not be used to settle personal scores. Prominent Muslim clerics in Pakistan urged the courts not to rush to judgment under public pressure, though the blasphemy law is widely popular among many ordinary Pakistanis.
In the meantime, Masih's case has triggered a debate on how Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws are being used to settle personal scores and vendettas. The laws have been especially in the spotlight since a Christian mother-of-five, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death in November 2010 for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. She remains in prison.
In January 2011, the powerful governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was killed by his own bodyguard for publicly urging reform of the blasphemy laws. His assassination divided Pakistani opinion, with many hailing the bodyguard as a hero for what he'd done.