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Rimsha Masih

Rimsha Masih, middle, has been at the center of a protracted dispute over blasphemy laws in Pakistan. (Photo credit: DeaconJohnSpace/Wordpres)

By Faith McDonnell

She was the topic of worldwide concern and prayers as she awaited her fate in an Islamabad jail cell. She was the victim of an accusation most feared by – and arbitrarily waged against – Christians and Muslims alike. Now the young Pakistani Christian, Rimsha Masih, is the first of such falsely-accused victims of Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy laws to be exonerated. On Tuesday, November 20,Compass Direct News Service announced that Masih had been cleared of all charges by the Islamabad High Court.

In August 2012, Masih, who is believed to be mentally disabled, was accused of desecrating the Koran by a Muslim neighbor, Malik Ammad. Ammad claimedthat there were burned pages of the Noorani Qaida, a booklet used to study the Koran, in Masih’s shopping bag. The local imam, Khalid Jadoon Chisti, called the authorities and filed a FIR (First Information Report) against the girl, all the while demanding that she be handed over to the Islamist mob and burned alive. Masih was arrested and charged under section 295-B of Pakistan’s penal code, a charge that carries a sentence of life imprisonment. She spent three weeks in maximum security for her own protection and the rest of her family went into hiding.

Soon after Masih’s arrest, the impoverished Christian community in Meherabad, the Islamabad suburb where she and her family lived, faced a backlash from Islamist mobs. Over 600 Christian families were beaten and forced to flee their homes. Many found refuge in a Christian slum area outside of Islamabad, the H-9 sector, where the homeless live in tents in the forest.

Read more here.