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Pakistan: welcome for Rimsha release but fears over extremists persist

Suffering Church campaigners have welcomed the news that blasphemy charges against a Christian teenager in Pakistan with learning difficulties have been dismissed, but warn she may still be in danger ...

Release International has welcomed a court decision in Pakistan to throw out a blasphemy case against Rimsha Masih (also known as Rimsha Misrik), a Christian teenager with learning difficulties. But Release partners in Pakistan warn her life is still at risk from extremists.

The decision by Islamabad High Court is a rare outcome for a blasphemy trial, says Release, which serves persecuted Christians. Release partners, who have been attending court hearings, say they are delighted Rimsha has been released but fear for her safety.

Chief Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur Rehman threw out the case yesterday (Tuesday 20 November 2012), citing the lack of witnesses to support the allegation that Rimsha had burned pages of the Koran. A Muslim cleric from Rimsha’s neighbourhood has been charged with blasphemy amid claims that he desecrated the Koran to fabricate evidence against the teenage girl.

Release partners say: "Rimsha has been released from all blasphemy accusations at an early stage because her case received international intention and the media highlighted the truth. Many other blasphemy cases are also false. What Rimsha’s case shows is that blasphemy charges are often registered due to personal enmity and for personal interests."

Both Rimsha’s legal team and Chief Justice Rehman suggested the case might set a precedent for the way blasphemy allegations are investigated in future. Announcing the verdict in Islamabad’s High Court, Chief Justice Rehman urged caution against anyone pressing blasphemy charges, describing such issues as ‘highly sensitive’.

Release CEO Paul Robinson welcomes the news. "The international outcry over this case has cast a much needed spotlight over Pakistan’s unjust blasphemy laws. But this positive progress has come at a high price for a young girl with learning difficulties, and her family.

"We hope this development will have a positive effect on the cases of Asia Bibi and Younis Masih, two Christians who are waiting for their appeals against blasphemy convictions to come to court – after years in custody.

"We also look forward to the Pakistani authorities taking bold and courageous steps to tackle this injustice and reform the blasphemy laws, for the sake of all Pakistani citizens, not just religious minorities."

Rimsha was arrested on August 16 after an angry mob accused her of committing blasphemy in a poor Christian slum outside Islamabad. She was held in an adult prison in Rawalpindi for three weeks before she was released on bail on September 8.

She and her family have been staying at an undisclosed location ever since. Extremists in Pakistan have been known to take violent revenge on blasphemy defendants, even after acquittal.

Rimsha’s life is still in danger, say Release partners. "There is no future for Rimsha and her family in Pakistan, as we have seen from previous cases. They would have to live in hiding for their security."
Through its international network of missions Release supports Christians imprisoned for their faith and their families in 30 nations. It supports church workers, pastors and their families, and provides training, Bibles, Christian literature and broadcasts. Release is a member of the UK organisations Global Connections and the Evangelical Alliance.

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