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Girl accused of blasphemy in Pakistan may have been framed by Muslim cleric

Ilyas Sheikh / EPA

Pakistani Christian minority members carry placards for the release of a Christian girl, Rimsha Masih -- arrested on charges of blasphemy -- during a protest in Faisalabad, Pakistan, Monday.

Rimsha Masih, the Christian Pakistani girl accused of blasphemy for burning holy Muslim texts may have been framed by a local Muslim cleric who was among the first to accuse her of the crime, police officials said on Sunday.

Khalid Jadoon was arrested after witnesses from Masih's village, on the outskirts of the country’s capital, complained about his alleged actions.

The cleric appeared briefly in court on Sunday before he was sent to jail for a 14-day judicial remand.

Religious and secular groups worldwide have protested over the detention in August of Rimsha Masih, accused by Muslim neighbors of burning Islamic religious texts.

Pakistani Christians live in fear after girl's blasphemy arrest

A local man, Hafiz Zubair, came forward to offer testimony in which he claims to have seen Jadoon fabricating evidence by mixing holy text pages with ashes.

Speaking to a local news channel, Zubair said: "I asked Jadoon why he was fabricating the evidence. He said that this would ensure a strong case against the girl and would ultimately help them in evicting the Christians from the locality."

Police official Munir Hussain Jafri told Reuters: "Witnesses complained that he had torn pages from a Koran and placed them in her bag which had burned papers."

Life for All Pakistan, one of the campaign groups working to secure Rimsha's release, issued a statement in response to the latest twist in the story, saying: “This is a national issue and everyone who claims to be secular and liberal should raise their voice.”

Muhammed Muheisen / AP

Images of daily life, political pursuits, religious rites and deadly violence.

A bail hearing will be held on Monday for Masih, whose case has re-focused a spotlight on Pakistan's anti-blasphemy law.

Under the law, anyone who speaks ill of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad commits a crime and faces the death penalty.

Activists and human rights groups say vague terminology has led to its misuse, and that the law dangerously discriminates against the Muslim country's tiny minority groups.

Critics of Pakistan's leaders say they are too worried about an extremist backlash to speak out against the law in a nation where religious conservatism is increasingly prevalent.

Convictions are common, although the death sentence has never been carried out. Most convictions are thrown out on appeal, but mobs have killed many people accused of blasphemy.

There have been conflicting reports about Masih's age and her mental state. Some media have said she is 11 and suffers from Down's Syndrome.

A hospital said in a report she was about 14 but had the mental capacities of someone younger, and was uneducated.

Masih's arrest triggered an exodus of several hundred Christians from her poor village after mosques reported over their loudspeakers what the girl was alleged to have done.

Christians, who make up four percent of Pakistan's population of 180 million, have been especially concerned about the blasphemy law, saying it offers them no protection.

Convictions hinge on witness testimony and are often linked to vendettas, they complain.

In 2009, 40 houses and a church were set ablaze by a mob of 1,000 Muslims in the town of Gojra, in Punjab province. At least seven Christians were burned to death. The attacks were triggered by reports of the desecration of the Koran.

Two Christian brothers accused of writing a blasphemous letter against the Prophet Mohammad were gunned down outside a court in the eastern city of Faisalabad in July of 2010.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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