The Pakistani cleric who handed over a young Christian girl to police on blasphemy charges in a poor suburb of Islamabad claimed Friday he did so to protect her from mob violence.
Police arrested the girl, Rimsha, who reportedly has Down’s Syndrome, in a low-income neighborhood of the capital last Thursday after she was accused of burning papers containing verses from the Koran, and remanded her in custody for 14 days.
The imam of the local mosque, Hafiz Khalid Chishti, insisted the girl was fully aware of what she was doing, calling it a “conspiracy and not a mistake.”
Rimsha, aged between 11 and 16, is being held in a jail in Islamabad’s twin city Rawalpindi, and her case has prompted concern from Western governments and fury from rights campaigners.
Chishti said on the day of the incident he went to the girl’s home after people showed him the papers she had burned, and he found a crowd outside and three or four Muslim women attacking the youngster.
“Some women were beating her and other people were trying to break her arms when I rescued her,” Chishti told AFP.
Chishti, who leads the prayer in the mosque and was the first one contacted by the villagers to take action against Rimsha, said he avoided a major violence incident by handing her over to police.
“People were demanding to burn their house, but I went to police and called them to avoid a major incident,” he said.
The cleric said the girl was 14 years old and was fully mentally capable.
“She did it knowingly, this is a conspiracy and not a mistake. she confessed what she did,” he said.
Around 97 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million population are Muslim and the country’s tiny Christian minority has long suffered discrimination and poverty.
Debate is growing about the blasphemy laws, which make defaming Islam or desecrating the Koran in theory punishable by death, with rights groups warning the legislation is frequently abused to settle personal vendettas.