Pakistan court acquits Muslim cleric in blasphemy case

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A Pakistan court on Saturday acquitted a Muslim cleric who accused a Christian girl of blasphemy before he himself was arrested on similar charges, a lawyer said.

The girl, Rimsha Masih, was arrested in August 2012 for allegedly burning pages containing Koranic verses but the case against her, which drew widespread international condemnation, was quashed.

Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, the cleric who made the allegations, was accused of desecrating the Koran and tampering with the evidence against Rimsha.

But his lawyer, Wajid Ali Gilani, told AFP: "The court has dismissed all charges against Khalid Chishti and has acquitted him in this case."

Gilani said the prosecution had failed to prove the charges while all the witnesses had withdrawn their accusations.

Rimsha, who lived in a poor, run-down neighbourhood on the edge of Islamabad, spent three weeks on remand in one of Pakistan's toughest jails. She and her family were forced into hiding, living under government protection in fear of their lives.

She is now in Canada.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population are Muslims, and under the country's penal code insulting the Prophet Mohammed can be punished by death.

Even unproven allegations can provoke a violent public response.

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