Imam Khalid Chishti of the Jamia Aminia mosque in the low-income Mehria Jaffar neighbourhood of Islamabad was arrested last night after a man testified that he had seen the cleric stuffing pages of the Quran in the bag of the Christian girl named Rimsha Masih, police said today.
The bag originally contained only some other papers and ashes. The witness, Hafiz Muhammad Zubair, recorded a statement against the cleric before a magistrate.
Police subsequently arrested Chishti on the basis of this statement and he is expected to be charged under the controversial blasphemy law. "When the bag was brought to the mosque, there was nothing in it.
When he (Chishti) was given the bag, he went into the mosque and pulled out two or three pages and added them to the bag," Zubair told the media.
"I told him what he was doing was wrong. He told me it is evidence against the Christians and a way to get them removed (from the area)," Zubair said.
The incident had occurred while Zubair and some other men were in 'aitekaf' (seclusion) in the mosque during the holy Islamic month of Ramzan. Zubair said a neighbour of Rimsha named Malik Ammad, the complainant in the case, handed over the bag with the pages of the Quran to the police.
Chishti had acknowledged in a television interview last week that he had, during a recent sermon, called for the eviction of all Christians from the neighbourhood if they did not stop their prayer services because "Pakistan is an Islamic country given by Allah."
Pakistan Ulema Council chief Allama Tahir Ashrafi asked the Supreme Court Chief Justice to take suo motu notice of the incident and initiate action against those who had really desecrated the Quran and them blamed the Christian girl for the incident.
Rimsha was arrested on August 16 after an angry mob surrounded a police station and demanded that action be taken against her.
She is currently being held at the high-security Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi. Her judicial remand was extended by 14 days last week.
Though an official medical board concluded that Rimsha was aged about 14 years and that her mental development did not correspond to her age, the findings were challenged last week by Rao Abdul Raheem, the lawyer of Rimsha's accuser.
A district and sessions court, which is hearing Rimsha's case, is looking into Raheem's allegations. Rimsha's bail hearing is scheduled to be taken up by the same court tomorrow.
The new evidence against the cleric could help defuse the religiously charged case against Rimsha. The case has prompted concern from Western governments and the Vatican.
It has also focused attention once again on Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law, under which a person can be punished with life in prison or death. Rights groups have warned that the law is often used to settle personal scores or persecute minorities like Christians.