Police in Pakistan have arrested an imam on suspicion of deliberately framing a young Pakistani Christian girl, who could face a death sentence for allegedly burning pages of the Koran.
Khalid Chishti, was arrested on Saturday after he had been accused of planting burnt pages of the Koran in a bag the Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, had been carrying.
Masih, aged 13, who reportedly has Down’s Syndrome, had been in police custody since being arrested in a suburb of Islamabad two and a half weeks ago. She could face life in prison or even the death penalty under Pakistan’s strict and highly controversial blasphemy laws.
Masih’s lawyers say she is innocent and maintain that not only is she only 13 years old, and should therefore be tried as a juvenile, but that she also has Down's syndrome and therefore "cannot commit such a crime", according to her bail application.
Chishti has been outspoken about his disdain for the Christian population and had welcomed the departure of many Christians from the area, following protests by hundreds of Pakistanis who demonstrated outside Masih’s house, demanding that the girl be burnt to death.
"We are not upset the Christians have left and we will be pleased if they don't come back," Chishti had told The Guardian.
Tahir Naveed Chaudhry from the All Pakistan Minority Committee said Masih's lawyers had always maintained the evidence was planted. "And now it is proved that the whole story was only designed to dislocate the Christian people," he said.
"[Chishti] must be prosecuted under the blasphemy law as it will set a precedent against anyone else who tries to misuse that law," he added.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators wrote to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari last Friday, denouncing the country's blasphemy laws.
“While we do not condone the destruction of any religious document or artifact or the defamation of any religion,” the letter states, “the application of Pakistan's blasphemy law undermines the State's obligation to protect the rights of all religious groups in Pakistan and in fact has repeatedly been used to harass and intimidate members of minority religious groups.”
The letter also blasted the forced departure of Christians from the girl’s neighborhood.