Pakistan’s high court dropped charges on Tuesday against Rimasha Masih, the 14-year-old Christian girl who was arrested Aug. 17 on charges she desecrated a Quran in Merabad, a poor district outside Islamabad where some of the country’s Christian minority reside.
In his 15-page ruling, Chief Justice Iqbal Hameed Ur Rehman accused a local Muslim preacher (imam) of having an “ulterior motive” for leveling a “false implication” against the girl—namely his effort to drum up support to expel the area’s Christian residents.
The case highlights the delicate relations between the country’s vast Muslim majority and the minority of non-Muslims as well as its strict 26-year-old law against blasphemy, which has been used to settle personal scores. Punishments for blasphemy, which includes Quran desecration, range from fines to death.
“Muslim/followers of Islam are warned to be careful and extraordinarily careful while leveling such allegations against anyone, and such directions are not [just] applicable in respect of other Muslims alone, rather the same are applicable in respect of non-Muslim communities too,” the chief justice said in the ruling tossing out the case on lack of credible witnesses.
The imam in question, Muhammad Khalid Chisti Jadoon, is himself in custody, facing charges of planting evidence and for desecrating the Quran used against the girl. His fate has yet to be determined by the courts.
The girl was arrested by local police for her own protection as the imam was agitating the public through a bullhorn from a local mosque, according to an earlier report in the Pakistan Christian Post. Christians in the area reportedly fled, fearing for their safety as a mob gathered near the police station.
Three Muslim male witnesses have since stepped forward accusing the imam of planting pages of the Quran in the trash heap where Rimasha had tossed garbage. The motive for the alleged crime was to incite Muslim anger against local Christians. One religious scholar has called to identify the type of punishment the imam should receive if found guilty, according to an earlier report in Pakistan’s News International.
Tahir Naveed, the girl’s lawyer, said there was no evidence that she was the one responsible for the burnt pages of the Quran, according to Reuters. Rimasha is believed to suffer some kind of mental disability.
The girl was released on 1 million rupees bail ($10,425) on Sept. 8 after spending three weeks in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail, where top accused terrorists are also held, according to The Indian Express. The girl and her family are currently housed at an undisclosed location for their own safety.
According to a report in Pakistan’s Dawn news agency, an average of 53 people a year have faced blasphemy charges between 1986, when the law went into effect, and 2010. Of these, 52 people were murdered by angry vigilantes before their cases were handled by the courts. Human Rights Watch estimates 1,400 blasphemy cases have been brought before Pakistan’s courts and 15 people are on death row after having been found guilty of blasphemy, according to CNN.