ISLAMABAD - A Muslim cleric is accused of stashing pages of a Qur’an in a Christian girl's bag to make it seem like she burned the Islamic holy book, a surprising twist in a case that caused an international outcry over the country's strict blasphemy laws.
Pakistani police arrested Khalid Chishti late Saturday after a member of the cleric's mosque accused the imam of planting evidence as a way to push the Christians out of the neighbourhood. Chishti denied the charges Sunday while being led to court in shackles, wearing a white blindfold.
"I have not done anything wrong. This is all fabrication," he defiantly told reporters.
The imam's arrest could release the girl, who supporters say is mentally handicapped, out of prison, where she faces a life sentence if convicted of charges she desecrated the Qur’an. A bail hearing is scheduled for Monday.
But Christians who fled the neighbourhood when the girl was arrested worry about the use of laws that critics say are often abused to settle scores or target minorities.
"We all are suffering," said Somera Ashraf, a Christian woman from the girl's neighbourhood.
Ashraf and her family fled the neighbourhood with many other Christians when the blasphemy allegations came to light, fearing retribution. She only recently returned but still doesn't feel safe.