The blasphemy case against a young, Pakistani Christian took an interesting turn this week when police arrested a Muslim cleric for allegedly placing false evidence in the girl's bag.
According to deputy mosque leader Hafiz Zubair's testimony on Tuesday, the whole series of accusations started when Masih's accuser, Malik Ammad, came to Imam Khalid Jadoon Chisti. Ammad carried a plastic bag he claimed contained the ashes of an Arabic school book that Masih had burned. Zubair said that Chisti then mixed pages of the Quran with ash from the other book to make it seem like she had burned the Islamic holy text.
"I asked why he was fabricating the evidence," Zubair said in his testimony. "He said this would ensure a strong case against the girl and would ultimately help them in evicting the Christians from the locality."
Dr. Paul Bhatti, the Pakistani government minister in-charge of national harmony, suspects a dispute over the land that Christians in Masih's neighborhood lease from Muslim landlords might have motivated the incident.
"From our investigation, it appears some vested interests are behind the whole episode...most likely aimed at grabbing the land," he said. "Although the Christians don't have the property rights to the land...it's becoming quite clear that a land mafia...wanted to evict the Christians to clear their way."
Chasti was imprisoned on Sunday and will remain behind bars until Sept. 16. He has denied the allegations against him. Police filed a blasphemy charge against him and may add charges of fraud, planting evidence and making false allegations.
Surprisingly, Chisti's arrest has not sparked a violent response. Instead, locals and leaders have focused on conducting a thorough investigation. Several human rights groups, including International Federation for Human Rights and the Human Rights Commision of Pakistan, are demanding Masih's release.
Some are hailing Chisti's arrest as unprecedented and hope it will prevent false blasphemy accusations in the future. Police registered a blasphemy case against Chisti on Monday for allegedly desecrating the Quran, said police officer Munir Jafferi. If he is charged by a court and convicted, he could face life in prison, said Jafferi.
Bhatti is hopeful that this case will prove an opportunity to discuss the misuse of blasphemy laws and how they are often misconstrued to persecute minority groups like Christians and the poor.
The case has generated significant international attention because of reports that the girl is as young as 11 and is mentally handicapped. The case has also raised debates about Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Human rights activists have long criticized Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, saying they are misused to persecute non-Muslims and settle personal vendettas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.