Islamabad: The three men who had accused a cleric of tampering evidence to implicate young Christian girl Rimsha Masih in a blasphemy case on Monday withdrew their statement, claiming they were tortured by police to testify against the imam. The three witnesses, who had earlier recorded statements against cleric Khalid Chishti, submitted a fresh statement in the court of a district and sessions judge in Islamabad that said police had forced them to blame Chishti for the incident.
The witnesses claimed police had tortured them and made them give statements against Chishti. One of the witnesses is Hafiz Mohammad Zubair, who works as the muezzin in the mosque where Chishti is the cleric. Despite their dramatic turnaround, the three witnesses had earlier spoken to several TV news channels and accused Chishti of tamepering evidence to implicate Rimsha in a blasphemy case.
They said Chishti had added burnt pages of a religious text to a shopping bag that was in Rimsha's possession. The district and sessions judge put off the hearing of a bail application filed by Chishti till October 3. Police had earlier submitted an interim challan or charge-sheet that said Chishti had tampered with evidence. Chishti was earlier remanded to judicial custody.
Three men withdrew their statement claiming they were tortured by police to testify against the imam.
In a separate development, the Islamabad High Court on Monday extended the stay on the trial of Rimsha on blasphemy charges till October 17. A single-judge bench of the High Court issued the extension while hearing a petition filed by Rimsha's lawyer for quashing the FIR against her.
During the hearing, a representative for the prosecution told the court that the lawyer was not in Islamabad. He requested the bench to give the lawyer more time to appear in court. The judge granted the prosecution's request and extended the stay on the trial.
Chief Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman of the Islamabad High Court had stayed the trial of the minor Christian girl on September 28 so that her petition for quashing the FIR against her could be taken up. Rimsha was arrested from a low-income neighbourhood on the outskirts of Islamabad on August 16 after her neighbour Malik Ammad accused her of burning pages from a religious text.
She was detained for three weeks in the high-security Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, where top terrorists are also being held. Police had also said in the interim charge-sheet that they had not found any evidence to support allegations that Rimsha had committed blasphemy. An official medical board that examined Rimsha said her mental development did not correspond with her age. Authorities moved Rimsha and her family to an undisclosed location after she was freed on bail on September 8.