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27 August 2012

Blasphemy case: Imam denies instigating hate campaign against Christians

425959-KhalidPHOTOAFP-1345840524-545-640x480.jpgISLAMABAD: Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, the imam of the mosque who allegedly issued a decree on his mosque’s loudspeaker

to burn Christians of Mehrabadi village alive in the aftermath of 11-year-old Rimsha Masih being accused of blasphemy, denied instigating a hate campaign against the community.

Chishti was said to have declared that, ‘All you chooras (a derogatory term for South Asian Christians) must leave here immediately or we will pour petrol on you and burn you alive …You sweepers are only deserving of such treatment.’

However, he told The Express Tribune on Friday that he never played a pivotal role in sparking any tensions, after Rimsha, who reportedly suffers from Down Syndrome, allegedly burned pages inscribed with verses from the Holy Quran.

“Neither I, nor any of my followers participated in the protest rallies. Nor did they instigate any hate campaign against the Christian community of Mehrabadi,” Chishti said, adding that “It was a legal issue that involves Rimsha and the eyewitnesses, which will be resolved in the court of law.”

Clarifying his position, the imam told The Express Tribune that he went to Rimsha’s home after people showed him the papers Rimsha had burned.

He found an angry crowd outside and three to four women attacking her. He claimed that the protestors demanded custody of Rimsha to burn her alive, but he rescued her and later handed her over to the police.

Rimsha committed ‘conspiracy’

Despite backtracking from his earlier stance, Hafiz Chishti was still scathing of the alleged blasphemy committed by Rimsha Masih, saying what she did was a “conspiracy” to insult Muslims.

He told AFP that “The girl who burnt the Holy Quran has no mental illness and is a normal girl. She did it knowingly; this is a conspiracy and not a mistake. She confessed what she did.”

Chishti claimed that the local Christian community had previously caused antagonism by playing music in services at their makeshift church during Muslim prayer time and said burning the pages was deliberate.

“They committed this crime to insult us further. This happened because we did not stop their anti-Islam activities before,” he said.

“Last Christmas, they played musical instruments and there was vulgarity in the streets during our prayers time. I warned them but they did not stop.”

During his sermon at Friday prayers, Chishti told worshippers it was “time for Muslims to wake up” and protect the Holy Quran.

Bail application filed

Meanwhile, Irshad Bibi, mother of Rimsha Masih filed a bail application for her daughter on Friday through their counsel, Advocate Tahir Naveed Chaudhry before the session court judge of Islamabad, Raja Jawad Hassan, who fixed the hearing of the case on August 31.

Previously, NGO World Vision in Progress Foundation had moved a bail application before the Islamabad session court for Rimsha.

Police remanded Rimsha for 14 days in the juvenile section of Adiyala jail after they registered an FIR under section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code. (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AFP)

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