A Muslim cleric is behind bars in Pakistan after he allegedly planted evidence to frame a young Christian girl who faces a life sentence for burning pages of the Koran.
Pakistani police arrested Khalid Chishti Sunday after witnesses claimed that he tore pages of the Islamic holy book and stashed them next to burned papers in the girl’s bag, Reuters reported.
The girl, Rimsha Masih, was jailed in Meharabadi, near Islamabad, for blasphemy last month after hundreds of her neighbors gathered outside her home, accused her of desecrating the Koran and severely beat her.
Masih, who is reportedly in her early teens, is believed to have Down’s syndrome.
A member of the mosque where Chishti is imam has accused the Muslim cleric of planting the Koran pages in order to drive Christians out of Masih’s village, Mehr Jaffer.
“I have not done anything wrong. This is all fabrication,” Chishti told reporters as he was led to court Sunday, wearing a white blindfold.
Hundreds of Christians have fled Mehr Jaffer since Masih’s arrest, fearing retribution.
“We all are suffering,” Somera Ashraf, a Christian woman from the impoverished village, told the AP.
Many Muslim locals, however, remain adamant that Chishti is innocent and that Masih should be punished.
“Pour petrol and burn these Christians,” local Iqbal Bibi told Reuters. “The cleric of the mosque has been oppressed. He is not at fault. He is innocent.”
Masih’s case has reignited debates over Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws, which state that anyone found guilty of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad or the Koran can be sentenced to death.
The World Council of Churches, which represents 349 Protestant and Orthodox church groups, is set to meet in Geneva this month to discuss the country’s controversial laws and Masih’s arrest.
“This latest affair just highlights the total hypocrisy of Pakistan, and its supporters, in the Human Rights Council,” Roy Brown, chief representative to the United Nations for the International Humanist and Ethical Union, said in a statement obtained by Fox News.
Many human rights groups have taken issue with the wording of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws, which they claim is vague and often misinterpreted to discriminate against minority groups in the country.
Under Pakistan’s laws, a simple allegation of blasphemy can lead to death, according to Reuters. Members of the public sometimes kill those accused even when courts find them innocent.
Ali Dayan Hasan, head of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, said that the decision to arrest Chishti was “unprecedented.”
“What it indicates is a genuine attempt at investigation rather than blaming the victim, which is what normally happens in blasphemy cases,” Hasan told the AP. “They are actually taking a look at incitement to violence and false allegations. It is a welcome and positive development.”