Monday, September 10, 2012

Apostasy, Fitna and abuse of Interpol


by Elizabeth Kendal

If a 2 September report in the Saudi Gazette is true, then it may well be the first time Interpol as been abused by an Islamic State for the purpose of retrieving an apostate.

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APOSTASY

On 28 July 2012, the Saudi Gazette reported: "A Saudi girl who recently embraced Christianity and fled the country for refuge in Lebanon told the host of a religious program on an Arabic TV channel that she was tired of performing prayers and fasting during Ramadan.

"The girl, who said her name was Maryam, said praying and fasting did not bring her any benefits. She also criticized the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Hai'a) and claimed that she was raised to hate Judaism and Christianity but fell in love with the religions after she found peace in Christianity.

"She said she became a Christian after she had a dream one night. In it, she climbed to the skies and heard God telling her that Jesus is His son."

According to reports, Maryam (28) was working in an insurance firm in Al-Khobar when she became interested in Christianity through the influence of her Christian boss, Lebanese expatriate, Mr Henna Sarkees (50). An unnamed male Saudi national with links to the firm then secured false travel documents that allowed her to leave the country for Lebanon, then for Sweden.

Henna Sarkees and the unnamed Saudi national will stand trial in Al-Khobar, in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, on Saturday 15 September. Maryam's parents have charged the two men with coercing Maryam into converting to Christianity and then convincing her to leave the country without the consent of her male guardian. They have even suggested it may all be part of a conspiracy to get their daughter into the hands of international people-traffickers.

Saudi media asserts that Maryam regrets her conversion, maintains she is still Muslim, denies ever talking to Arabic TV, desires to return home and is accusing Christians of taking her to Sweden against her will.

For more background, details and links see:
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 175 | Wed 05 Sep 2012
SAUDI ARABIA: convert flees; helpers to face court
-- Interpol and Swedish authorities aid Saudi Embassy to hunt convert.
By Elizabeth Kendal

On 2 September, the following news report appeared in the Saudi Gazette:
(copied in full; emphasis mine)
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Efforts on to bring back ‘Al-Khobar girl’ from Sweden
Sunday, September 02, 2012

AL-KHOBAR —The Al-Khobar girl who fled the Kingdom after allegedly converting to Christianity will be brought home from Sweden in a matter of few days, Al-Yaum newspaper reported Saturday quoting informed sources.

The Interpol is coordinating with the Saudi Embassy in Stockholm and Swedish authorities to return the girl to her homeland before her 'kidnappers' move her to another country, the sources said.

The girl's father received phone calls from unknown people who threatened to kill his daughter or move her to another European country if the main suspect in her case, a Lebanese man named Henna Sarkess, was not released from jail in the Kingdom.

Sources said it is highly likely that a global human trafficking network was involved in the kidnapping of the girl, who was persuaded by her Lebanese manager to embrace Christianity and leave the country without the knowledge of her family.

A Saudi was arrested for faking a travel permit, which the girl used to leave the Kingdom and go to Lebanon. There, she stayed with a Christian group inside a church for a while. When she told the group that she wanted to return to the Kingdom and that she regretted what she had done, the group decided to take her to Sweden because it did not want her to return to the Kingdom.

The girl’s father has called upon the authorities to help him bring back his daughter. He said his daughter still talks to them over the phone and she is currently in Sweden. The father is worried that his daughter might get brainwashed.

The Saudi Embassy in Stockholm said it received a letter from the girl’s father requesting it to help her return to the Kingdom. The [Saudi] embassy has started a search with the Swedish authorities.

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INTERPOL

The information in this section of the posting has mostly been gleaned from the following sources:

Interpol's Red Notices Used by Some to Pursue Political Dissenters, Opponents.
Investigative report by Libby Lewis, for The Cutting Edge, 25 July 2011

GLOBAL ADMINISTRATIVE LAW MEETS “SOFT” POWERS:THE UNCOMFORTABLE CASE OF INTERPOL RED NOTICES
Journal article (91 pages) by Mario Savino, March 2010
Journal of International Law and Politics, New York University

The website of Fair Trials International / Interpol

Interpol's official website

INTERPOL: WHAT IS IT?

With 190 member countries, Interpol is the world's second largest international entity after the United Nations. As in the United Nations, Interpol's member countries span from totalitarian dictatorship to liberal democracies. While Interpol possesses many attributes of an international organisation, many would say it is really more of an international network, linking police globally for the purpose of facilitating police cooperation and law enforcement across the globe.

INTERPOL: HOW IT WORKS

Interpol operates "a closed communications system linking police via vast international databases". (Lewis) Normally, police in member countries send Interpol a domestic arrest notice, which Interpol then sends out as a global Red Notice. On the basis of a Red Notice, police in other member countries may arrest suspects for extradition.

While Interpol's Constitution mandates neutrality and prohibits "any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character," cooperation is based on trust -- i.e. Interpol trusts member countries not to abuse the system.

WHERE IS THE PROBLEM?

While Interpol has doubtless made the world a safer place by facilitating the arrest of numerous transnational terrorists, traffickers and other criminals, there is nothing to prevent human rights-abusing, non-free, totalitarian states from abusing the system and using Interpol to extend their own repressive arms internationally. Indeed, dictatorial regimes have been known to abuse the system and use it to track down and capture, or even just drive underground, their most troublesome dissidents.

And because Interpol is neither transparent nor accountable, it is extremely easy to abuse.

"Interpol is not entrusted with any significant investigative or operational powers. Those powers are still located at national level. . . Interpol's core business is the administration of information." (Savino, p26)

Fair Trials International reports: "Even though some of Interpol's member countries are known human rights abusers and notoriously corrupt, Interpol has no effective mechanisms to prevent countries, or even individual prosecutors, abusing the red notice system. As a result, even though most red notices may be perfectly valid, abuses of Interpol are also affecting human rights campaigners, journalists and businessmen, in countries all over the world.

"People in this situation have no independent court they can turn to for redress. Your only option is to request a review by a Commission, funded by Interpol and serviced by Interpol staff. You have no right to a hearing, no opportunity to respond to allegations against you and will be given no reasons for the decision reached. Even if the Commission concludes that a red notice is inaccurate or abusive, it cannot require its removal or amendment. It can only make non-binding recommendations."

According to Interpol's Chief Lawyer, Joël Sollier, the agency does try to ferret out dubious requests. His instruction to Interpol is that a Red Notice should be cancelled if there is any doubt. (Lewis)

According to Lewis, Interpol's issuance of Red Notices has increased markedly in recent years, from 2,343 Red Notices in 2005, to 6,344 in 2010. "Partly to deal with that increased workload, Interpol is putting more power into the hands of its police members.

"Two years ago," writes Lewis, "police had to apply directly to Interpol for a Red Notice. Today, every Red Notice request is entered into the system directly by the police themselves—not by Interpol. Police around the world instantly see those notices—before Interpol even reviews them.

"Police can also bypass the formal Red Notice system altogether—and just type an informal notice of arrest in an email—and post it on Interpol’s communications system. Those email notices—Interpol calls them 'diffusions'—go out instantly, with no automatic Interpol review."

And as Lewis notes, "these informal email notices are linked to far more arrests than arrests linked to the Red Notices Interpol vets for political concerns". In fact, according to Lewis, in 2010, at least 1,858 arrests were made of people named in email notices while only 663 arrests were made of people named in Red Notices.

This might explain why in February of this year, while Malaysian police were claiming that they had arrested the Saudi tweeter Hamza Kashgari (23) "following a request made to us by Interpol" on behalf of the Saudi authorities, Interpol was strongly denying that it had anything to do with it.

See: Interpol accused after Malaysia arrests journalist over Muhammad tweet
Police agency strongly denies its system used by Saudi Arabia to get journalist detained for insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Twitter
By Own Bowcott, The Guardian, 10 February 2012

Kashgari had fled Saudi Arabia after his tweeted imaginary conversation with the prophet Mohammad was deemed blasphemous. After being arrested in Malaysia and extradited, he was imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. He remains in prison to this day, still offering up apologies, but to no avail. Voices are still calling for him to be executed.

There have also been some really obvious and undeniable abuses of Interpol.

One such case involves Indonesia's call for a Red Notice to be issued against Papuan independence advocate Benny Wenda (36). The Red Notice was issued despite the fact that the persecuted, tortured, now Oxford-based Wenda had been granted asylum in the UK. Only in August of this year was the Red Notice against Wenda dropped.

See: Benny Wenda's plight has highlighted the misuse of Interpol
Interpol must act to stop its red notice system being abused by countries to persecute refugees and exiled political activists
By Alex Tinsley, The Guardian, 6 Aug 2012.

In an article published by CNN, Libby Lewis raises the case of Iranian dissident Shahram Homayoun (57). "After fleeing Iran in 1992 and moving to Los Angeles, Homayoun started a satellite television station, Channel One, to beam a message of civil resistance into the homes of Iranians.

"Over the years, his audience has scribbled his slogan, Ma Hastim ("We exist" in Farsi) on Iranian walls and bridges to promote democracy in the country. He has also called on his listeners to show their solidarity in creative ways, such as gathering at the tomb of Cyrus the Great or showing up at their local bakery on the same day -- every Thursday -- and asking for bread.

"At the request of Iran, which charged Homayoun with inciting terrorism, Interpol issued a Red Notice in December 2009 requesting Homayoun's arrest."

Regarding Maryam, all the Saudi authorities would have had to do was to report through Interpol channels that a Saudi Arabian girl was being held in Sweden against her will, possibly by international traffickers, and request help to retrieve her and return her to her family. And with that, Maryam's hopes of liberty are dashed. 

FITNA

As I said in my opening remarks, if the 2 Sept 2012 report in the Saudi Gazette is true, then it may well be the first time Interpol has been abused by an Islamic State for the purpose of retrieving an apostate.

In the past, Islamic states have generally been content to let apostates flee, for at least then they are not be around to spread fitna (temptation / doubt) amongst the locals. However, in these days of global communications -- satellite TV, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter etc -- the apostate can generate far more fitna from a safe-haven in the West than they ever could at home. And "fitna is worse than killing". (Qur'an Sura 2:191).

Christian advocacy groups that have excelled at speaking into political power must quickly learn how to speak into international law enforcement so that Interpol and national police forces do not become unwitting extensions of Islamic religious police. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

BURMA: new report exposes religious persecution of ethnic Chin Christians

On 5 September, the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) released an important and impressive report that will surely make a valuable contribution to the debate around Burmese reforms. The Chin are a Christian people with a strong Christian culture. And as CHRO's programme director, Salai Za Uk Ling points out: "Chins continue to face religious persecution. Despite strong government reforms, these efforts have yet to be extended to religious freedom."

Burma expert Benedict Rogers remarks in his Foreword, that while there are positive signs and grounds for optimism, "there is a danger of premature euphoria. . . . There is still a very long way to go," says Rogers. "The change of atmosphere has not yet resulted in a change of system."

Rogers, who has written widely on Burma and is Christian Solidarity Worldwide's East Asia Team Leader, rightly notes: "One of the most under-reported aspects of Burma's human rights record has been the regime's discrimination and persecution of religious minorities and violations of religious freedom."

Threats to our Existence: Persecution of Ethnic Chin Christians in Burma
Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) 5 September 2012

According to CHRO, "The denial of religious freedom – particularly for minority groups such as the Rohingya Muslims and Chin Christians – is rooted in discrimination on the dual basis of ethnicity and religion. This endemic discrimination is arguably a product of extreme Burman nationalism based on a distorted version of Buddhism, held by Burma's military rulers." (page 6)

". . . the denial of religious freedom by the authorities in Burma today must be understood in the context of extreme Burman nationalism predicated on a distorted version of Buddhism, characterized by the SLORC/SPDC regime. Widespread restrictions on freedom of religion were a central pillar of SLORC/SPDC’s drive to ethnically, culturally, linguistically, and religiously homogenize the ethnic minority areas of the Union of Burma as part of an unwritten forced assimilation policy." (page 16)

Chapter 4 of the report (pages 43-82) provides case studies of the discrimination, repression and persecution suffered by Chin Christians. Cases cover the closure of churches, the destruction of crosses, the disruption of worship services and conferences, the intimidation and harassment of pastors and missionaries, the sexual violence and torture being committed against church workers and Christian civilians, and the exploitation of Chin civilians in forced labour -- includes portering for the Burmese Army and building Buddhist pagodas, monasteries and statues all throughout the state.

The whole of Chapter 5 (pages 83-112) focuses on the induced and coerced conversion of Chin Christians to Buddhism. Systematic discrimination and persecution creates crippling poverty and hardship, which in turn presents the state with an opportunity. As the government offers free education and food through Buddhist monasteries and to those who convert, suffering families feel great pressure. This is also why it is in the government's interests to keep the ethnic-religious minority regions poor, hungry and deprived.

For two excellent summaries, see:

Christian Chin ‘Coerced to Buddhism by State’
By Charlie Campbell, for The Irrawaddy, 5 Sept 2012

Christians face systematic discrimination in Chin state
By HANNA HINDSTROM, 5 September 2012
Democratic Voice of Burma

Pakistan: religious hatred not being addressed


By Elizabeth Kendal

(1) Is Pakistan terminally ill?
(2) Rimsha Masih and the Mehrabad Conspiracy

INTRODUCTION

The blasphemy case against and cruel treatment of Rimsha Masih, an 11-14 year-old illiterate girl from a Christian colony in Islamabad's Mehrabad slum, has elicited revulsion and dismay both domestically and internationally.

Rimsha's arrest comes hot on the heels of Asia Bibi's death sentence and the assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shabaaz Bhatti; and immediately prior to the obscene torture-murder of the Christian boy Samuel Yacoub (11). Not since Dr John Joseph, Bishop of Faisalabad, poured out his own life in front of the Sahiwal court house on 6 May 1998 in protest of the death sentence handed down to Christian slum dweller Ayub Masih who was, like Rimsha, the victim of a malicious blasphemy accusation, has attention to Pakistan's sickness been so intense.

However, if Pakistan's authorities and Muslims elites manage to whitewash and sideline this case by making it all about child rights and mental capacity rather than intolerance, hatred and the blasphemy law; and if they fail to address the real issues of Islamisation, Sharia and the radicalisation of the masses; then nothing will change. Systematic religious hatred must be addressed and remedied before Christians, Shi'ites, Ahmadis and Hindus face genocide. 

For background on the Rimsha Masih case, see:

PAKISTAN: intolerance grows; child accused of blasphemy
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 173 | Wed 22 Aug 2012
AND the update:
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 174 | Wed 29 Aug 2012
under the subheading: "THE SHAME OF PAKISTAN".

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IS PAKISTAN TERMINALLY ILL?

As passions soared over the arrest and cruel treatment of Rimsha Masih, British correspondent Rob Crilly opined that the international show of support for Rishma might actually endanger her life and risk undermining her case. "For although the law is rarely best carried out in secret," says Crilly, "Pakistan's archaic blasphemy laws fall apart entirely when conducted amid the blaze of publicity."

Crilly asserts: "Christian campaigners and democracy activists have turned Rimsha into a poster girl for their causes and are in danger of creating a martyr. Having propelled the issue into the open, creating headlines around the world, Pakistan's lawyers, judges and politicians have little room to manouevre. They are under intense pressure to act as good Muslims. Any leniency will be interpreted as a pro-blasphemy, anti-Islam stance. And all the while they will be reminded of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, whose courageous support of Asia Bibi ended in a hail of bullets outside his favourite lunch spot.

"With the case in the spotlight, it will take a brave man now to do the right thing."

The reality however is this: in many cases the spotlight is often the only thing that enables or sometimes forces a man or woman or government to be brave and do the right thing.

Crilly seems totally oblivious to the fact that the courts are not Rimsha's greatest threat! Muslim mobs are straining at the bit, hankering to lynch this child, to burn her alive. The only reason she is alive today is because, after surviving a savage beating at the hands of the mob, she was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison.

As terrible as her plight is, what it says about Pakistani society is far worse.

Absent a massive international public outcry, Rimsha would doubtless have been quietly sacrificed to appease the Islamists. She would either been quickly acquitted and handed over to the mob or placed at the mercy of Islamists inside the prison, to become, like so many before her, another religious minority death-in-custody statistic.

Absent a massive international public outcry, Rimsha's family will not survive. The international outcry needs to be so loud that the only way for Pakistan to secure US aid and avoid a public international shaming at the UN General Assembly will be to have Rimsha released and the family resettled in the West. The difficulty lies in effecting this coup in a manner that will limit the fallout from Pakistan's powerful Islamic fundamentalists.

Crilly has failed to see what many Pakistanis are beginning to see very clearly: Pakistani society is sick to its core.

Writing in Pakistan's Daily Times on 31 August, Farahnaz Ispahani of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights goes right to the heart of the matter: "Pakistan is continuing to become an intolerant society".

Ispahani believes that if Rimsha's case is treated as a child's rights or disability rights issue, then it will only "take the heat away from the real problem". As she intimates, this may well be the government's intention as it seeks to "'re-set', yet again, Pakistan-US ties" or prepare for the "forthcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting".

As Ispahani rightly notes, "The real problem continues to be the day-to-day persecution, harassment and murder of Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus under Pakistan's laws. . . Even after Rimsha has been freed, which we hope she will, the [Islamic Sharia, Hudood, blasphemy] laws opposed by most of the civilised world will still stand.

"The deep-rooted problem of oppression and intolerance of religious minorities, to which one may add the ongoing organised killings (which some plausibly call genocide) of Shias, needs greater resolve than the temporary solution of solving an individual case within the framework of flawed existing laws."

Also writing in Pakistan's Daily Times on 31 August, was Gulmina Bilal Ahmad. Citing the assassinations of Salaam Taseer and Shabaaz Bhatti, she makes the point that you simply cannot talk about the blasphemy law if you are in Pakistan; it is just too dangerous.

"The worst thing about the accusation of blasphemy," she writes, "is that more people die as a result of mob violence. Police in most of the cases are left with no option but to hand over the accused to the mob, which in most instances results in the death of the accused. More accused have died not due to the stringent blasphemy laws but due to the extreme behaviour of mobs.

"Let us take a look at this problem from the societal point of view," writes Ahmad. "Our society has grown insensitive to violence over a period of time. Certainly, there are various reasons for it. Unemployment, rising inflation and lack of security are some of the most obvious reasons that might lead to violent behaviour. But these problems are not specific to Pakistani society. There are other countries where the level of inflation and unemployment is even higher than ours but citizens of those countries do not grow violent.

"Once again, we have to put the blame on the radical shift that Pakistan went through during Zia’s regime. Strict laws were put in place, educational curriculums were altered, religious hatred, sectarian violence was purposely spread, and most importantly, Pakistan was pushed into the abyss of extremism. As a result, society as whole developed narrow views on religion and the interfaith harmony that existed earlier went down the drain."

What was the "radical shift" that occurred under Zia -- a "radical shift" that Ahmad dare not name?

After the Iranian Islamic (Shi'ite) Revolution (1979), Saudi Arabia spared no effort to establish Pakistan (and by extension, Afghanistan) as a Sunni Wahhabi bulwark on Iran's eastern border. In order to hem in the revolution, the US bolstered Iraq while Saudi Arabia bolstered Pakistan. Iraq went to war with Iran, while in Pakistan, Saudi-sponsored madrassas and mosques indoctrinated the masses with anti-Shi'ite, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian religious hatred and jihadist ideology, Islamising the masses along Wahhabi lines. The Taliban were a Pakistani creation, fashioned in Saudi-sponsored Pakistani madrassas for the jihad in Afghanistan (1980s). It was during these years, under the leadership of Sunni military dictator President General Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988), that Sharia Courts, Hudood punishments and blasphemy laws were introduced and Sunni supremacy used to fuel hatred and intolerance of all others.

As Ahmed notes, "The accusation of blasphemy over a period of time has also become an instrument of violence, a sort of violence that is so easy to commit and the best thing about it is that you can walk away from it free. . .

"It is sad," says Ahmed, "that Rimsha, who is also said to have an unstable mental condition, was accused of blasphemy. It will be wrong to state that residents of that area did not know about her condition. They did it because Muslims in that locality did not like living with Christians . . ."

See also: Mob Rule Replaces Rule of Law
by Shiraz Maher, Gatestone Institute
September 17, 2012

RIMSHA MASIH AND THE MEHRABAD CONSPIRACY

The Muslims of Mehrabad do not like living with Christians, not because the Christians are difficult to live with, but because, after decades Islamic fundamentalist indoctrination, the Muslims simply hate the Christians without a cause (John 15:18-25).

Talking to media on 24 August, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, the local imam who handed Rimsha to the authorities, claimed that Rimsha's blasphemy was part of a deliberate Christian "conspiracy" to insult Muslims.

"The girl who burnt the Holy Quran has no mental illness and is a normal girl," Chishti told AFP. "She did it knowingly. This is a conspiracy and not a mistake. She confessed what she did."

Chishti had long been at the forefront of a dispute between the slum's Muslim and Christian communities, leading complaints over Christian prayers, singing and music that he maintains is provocative. Chishti is doubtless provoked by the fact that joyful Christian worship can be very attractive; consequently it may introduce fitna (temptation / doubt) into the Muslim community. And "fitna is worse than killing". (Qur'an. Sura 2:191)

After Rimsha was arrested, Chishti reportedly told Mehrabad's Christians, "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." Chishti denies the accusation.

The Islamic pogrom that tore through Mehrabad in the wake of Rimsha's arrest forced the district's more than 500 Christian families to flee. On 28 August the Associated Press reported: "Over the weekend a group of about 300 [displaced Christians] cleared out a section of land in a forested part of an Islamabad neighborhood [along a sewerage line] and built the skeleton of a church from branches, complete with a cross, and were using it to hold prayer services.

"Christians in the area said Tuesday [28 Aug] that in the middle of the night, people burned their makeshift church to the ground. Then the group was evicted from the site.

"By midafternoon a group of about 150 Christians had gathered in the park a few hundred meters (yards) from the clearing where the church once stood. Many had nothing to eat until an aid group delivered some rice.

"'We are helpless. What can we do? We are just sitting here,' said Naseem Javed, who was holding her 3-year-old son in her arms. 'They don't even want us to have a place to pray'."

Though many of the displaced Christians any had previously vowed never to return, about half of Mehrabad's Christian families have since returned, although they do not feel even remotely safe.

On Thursday 30 August, after a medical report found that Rimsha was a minor with a mental capacity less than her age, prosecuting lawyer Rao Abdur Raheem accused the state of manipulating court proceedings and managing the crisis in an attempt to whitewash it for political reasons. He has accused the authorities of arranging to have doctors give a false account of Rimsha age and mental capacity, in order that she might be treated more leniently or even exonerated. "There are many Mumtaz Qadris in this country . . ." Raheem warned ominously, referring to the Islamist bodyguard who assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer over his criticism of the blasphemy law.  "The girl is guilty," he declared. "If the state overrides the court, then God will get a person to do the job."

Later, sitting in his office beneath a large poster of Qadri, Raheem told the Guardian: "If the court is not allowed to do its work, because the state is helping the accused, then the public has no other option except to take the law into their own hands."

A Conspiracy Indeed!

In a surprise twist, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti was arrested on the evening of Saturday 1 September, after his deputy, Maulvi Zubair, and two other associates came forward accusing the imam planting burnt pages of the Quran in Rimsha's bag. Chishti denies the accusation, defiantly maintaining, "This is all fabrication."

Police investigator Munir Hussain Jaffri reports that Maulvi Zubair, Mohammad Shahzad and Awais Ahme told a magistrate that Chishti added pages from the Quran to the burnt pages brought to him by Rimsha's accuser. The three witnesses reportedly told the police that they had urged Chishti not to tamper with the evidence.

"They protested that he should not add something to the evidence and he should give the evidence to the police as he got it and should not do this," Jaffri said. They claim Chishti told them: "You know this is the only way to expel the Christians from this area."

As Jaffri notes, "By putting these pages in the ashes he also committed desecration of the Holy Koran." Consequently, now Chishti is being charged with blasphemy.

Right from the beginning, local Christians had maintained that Rimsha had been set-up as part of a conspiracy to expel the Christians. After Rimsha was arrested, a man from the community who did not want to be named told the Express Tribune, "The girl did not commit blasphemy. It was the cleric from a local mosque and some others who made up the issue to uproot us from Mehrabadia." He said the local Muslims object to Christians praying in their church and singing carols and hymns, even playing music at weddings. 

Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, Rimsha's lawyer from the All Pakistan Minority Committee, said they had always maintained the evidence was planted. "And now it is proved that the whole story was only designed to dislocate the Christian people," he said. Chaudhry believes the imam's arrest proves his client is innocent. He said he will now move to have the case thrown out.

Ali Dayan Hasan, head of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, is absolutely correct in stating that the decision to act against the cleric was "unprecedented".

"What it indicates," says Hasan, "is a genuine attempt at investigation rather than blaming the victim, which is what normally happens in blasphemy cases. They are actually taking a look at incitement to violence and false allegations. It is a welcome and positive development."

Imam Chishti maintains he has been set-up; that it is all part of a political conspiracy and the accusations against him are false. Prosecuting lawyer Rao Abdur Raheem likewise maintains that Chishti's arrest is all part of a political conspiracy being driven by political elites for political interests. "This deliberate twist in the case is aimed at discouraging complaints under the blasphemy law," he said in court Sunday.

The reality probably looks something like this: consumed with hate, Chishti framed the poor, helpless and unwitting Rimsha in order to justify inciting the pogrom that drove the Christians out of Mehrabad. Then, with Islamic and international passions soaring, the government realised it had to find a solution that would both pacify Pakistan's Islamic fundamentalists and appease the West. Fortunately for them this case had all the right ingredients to make that very easy. With the case now being all about age, disability and evidence tampering, it is no longer has to be about blasphemy, intolerance and religious hatred at all and the government is off the hook.

Rimsha's bail hearing has been slated for Friday 7 September.

While she will doubtless be exonerated and released, we must resist the temptation to cry peace, peace when there is no peace! At this point, nothing has changed in Pakistan.

UPDATE:  At the bail hearing on Friday 7 Sept, Judge Mohammad Azam Khan announced to a packed courtroom, “The bail application has been accepted against two sureties of 500,000 rupees each.”

On Sunday 9 Sept, Rimsha was released from prison and transported under tight security in a bullet-proof police van to a helicopter that took her to a secret, undisclosed location where she was reunited with her family. The family remains in hiding as Islamic fundamentalists are still threatening to kill Rimsha.

The next hearing of the case will take place on Monday 17 September.