A Pakistani court dismissed on Tuesday a blasphemy case against a Christian girl which had drawn international condemnation and concern about the rights of religious minorities in the predominantly Muslim country. Rimsha Masih, believed to be no older than 14, was charged with burning pages of the Koran in August but was granted bail in September after a cleric was detained on suspicion of planting evidence to stir up resentment against Christians.
Masih's lawyer, Tahir Naveed, said the Islamabad High Court's decision to throw out the case was based on the fact that no one had seen her burning pages of the Koran. The case provoked international concern and she could, in theory, have faced execution under Pakistan's blasphemy law despite her age and reported mental problems.
Muslims consider the Koran the literal word of God and treat each book with deep reverence. Desecration is considered one of the worst forms of blasphemy. The blasphemy law enjoys widespread support among ordinary Pakistanis even though critics say it is often abused by people involved in disputes or against members of religious minorities.
Over the past two years, two senior government officials who had suggested reform of the law were shot dead, one by his own bodyguard. Lawyers threw rose petals at the killer and the judge who convicted him was forced to flee the country. The number of blasphemy cases brought under the law is rising. Since 1987, there have been almost 250 cases, according to the Center for Research and Security Studies think-tank. Convictions are common, although the death sentence has never been carried out.
Most convictions are thrown out on appeal but mobs often take the law into their own hands. The think-tank said 52 people had been killed after being accused of blasphemy since 1990.