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Blasphemy Reform Debate in Pakistan Quashed By 'Innocence Of Muslims' Video

Anti-Islam film that sparked regional violence caused "setback" in post-Rimsha Masih discussions.

Following the exoneration of Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Pakistani Christian girl who made international headlines after she was falsely accusing of blaspheming the Qur'an, Pakistan appeared ready to discuss–and potentially weaken–its anti-blasphemy laws.

But that window of opportunity slammed shut on Sept. 11, when a portion of the Islamic world erupted in outrage over the anti-Islam Internet video "Innocence of Muslims," which portrays Muhammad as a womanizer and false prophet.

"Much progress had been made," attorney Tahir Naveed told Open Doors News, "but this film brushed everything aside."

For a moment, Pakistani Christians may have thought the apparent collapse of the case against Masih had opened a narrow window of opportunity to weaken the country's anti-blasphemy law. Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, used the Rimsha arrest as an opportunity to insist the blasphemy law must not be used as a cover to settle personal scores. Naveed, who is a member of the Punjab state legislature, said his All Pakistan Minorities Alliance party had started consulting other parties on proposals to reopen and reinvestigate all blasphemy cases.

Napolean Qayyum, a field director for World Vision in Progress, which describes itself as "a ground organization working for the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan" said the video undermined efforts being made to promote religious harmony.

"A church was burned down in Mardan by an anti-film mob," he said. "They also burned down an adjacent school and a library, while the provincial government played the role of a silent spectator. Twenty-six people died in countrywide violent riots that day. The entire debate shifted to the film issue. A setback, indeed."

But the opportunity to discuss anti-blasphemy laws may not be entirely closed. This week in Islamabad, attention turns to Khalid Jadoon, the imam of Meherabadi mosque, who faces allegations that he planted the damaged religious texts into Masih's bag as a pretext for reporting her to police.

"The prosecution is trying its best to save Jadoon, but the case against him is watertight," Naveed said.

Jadoon is due in court Oct. 11, which might open another window of opportunity.

"This is the first case of its kind when a person charged under the strict blasphemy laws is exonerated from the accusation," Naveed said. "This case has also brought for the first time a debate on how these laws are misused to target innocent people."

CT previously reported on the case against Masih, as well as on the violence caused by the anti-Islam film.

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