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Pakistan court dismisses charges against cleric in blasphemy case

A Pakistani court in Islamabad on Saturday dismissed charges against a cleric who was arrested for allegedly framing a Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, accused of blasphemy. The district court held [AP report] that the prosecution had not brought forward sufficient evidence to convict. The cleric, Khalid Chishti, accused the girl of burning pages from the Quran, but he was later accused of planting the pages. The girl, after being released on bond in 2012, moved to Canada along with her family. This case has sparked criticism both within Pakistan and around the world that the blasphemy law is being used to suppress Pakistan's Christian minority population.

Blasphemy laws [JURIST news archive] in Pakistan carry penalties [JURIST report] ranging from a fine to capital punishment. In August 2012 Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said that the country's blasphemy laws would not be misused to persecute religious beliefs. Zardari's comments came after the young girl's arrest. Blasphemy laws are currently in effect in several countries around the world. In July the US Department of State released [JURIST report] its annual International Religious Freedom Report, documenting threats to religious freedom throughout the world. The report documents current international threats to religious freedom—particularly laws that punish religious traditions and blasphemy laws that are often used to punish religious tolerance.

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