ISLAMABAD - A Pakistani court quashed on Tuesday, November 20, blasphemy charges against a Christian girl, a case that has drawn international condemnations and criticism of the South Asian Muslim country.
"The court has quashed the case, declaring Rimsha [Masih] innocent," her lawyer Akmal Bhatti told Agence France-Presse (AFP).High Court chief justice Iqbal Hameed ur Rahman dropped blasphemy charges against the 14-year-old girl.
He said putting Rimsha on trial would have seen the courts "used as a tool for ulterior motive" and "to abuse the process of law".
The chief justice also urged Muslims to be "extraordinary careful" while leveling such blasphemy allegations.
Rimsha was arrested last august under Pakistan's blasphemy law over claims of burning copies of the Noble Qur'an.
Her arrest has prompted outcry from Western governments, the Vatican and rights groups, who have complained that the blasphemy laws are often abused to settle personal scores.
Muslim leaders across Pakistan have also voiced support for the girl, denouncing the accusations as discrimination.
The All Pakistan Ulema Council, an umbrella group of Muslim scholars, also warned that the law of jungle was gripping Pakistan.
The Christian girl spent three weeks on remand in jail after being arrested on August 16.
She was released on bail in September but she and her family have been in hiding under government protection, fearful for their lives.
The court's decision was supported by an earlier official medical report which classified her as "uneducated" and 14 years old, but with a mental age younger than her years.
Others have said she is as young as 11 and suffers from Down's Syndrome.
The prosecution said it would appeal the decision in the Supreme Court.
The court ruling has won plaudits from Pakistani Christians.
"It will send out a positive image of Pakistan in the international community that there is justice for all and that society has risen up for justice and tolerance," Paul Bhatti, the only Christian member of Pakistan's federal cabinet, told AFP.
He paid tribute to Muslim scholars, members of the media and civil society for playing a "positive role" in highlighting the injustice done to Rimsha and said it would deter others from leveling false accusations.
A conviction for blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws came under the spotlight in 2010 after a Christian woman was sentenced to death in a case stemming from a village dispute.
In January 2011, Punjab governor Salman Taseer was killed by his bodyguard over his criticism of the blasphemy law.
In addition to Taseer death, Pakistan's Minister of Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of the government, was assassinated later on March 4, 2011.
According to Pakistan's blasphemy law, insulting any Prophet in Pakistan, a country where 95 percent of the population is Muslim, is a crime punishable with death or life imprisonment.
The law, commonly known as 295-C, was introduced in early 1980s by late President General Zia-ul-Haq.
Since then, some 700 cases of blasphemy have been registered, half of which are against Muslims.But rights groups say the law is often exploited to settle personal scores.