ISLAMABAD – A Muslim cleric is accused of stashing pages of a Quran in a Christian girl’s bag to make it seem like she burned the Islamic holy book, a surprising twist in a case that caused an international outcry over the country’s strict blasphemy laws.

Pakistani police arrested Khalid Chishti late Saturday after a member of the cleric’s mosque accused the imam of planting evidence as a way to push the Christians out of the neighborhood. Chishti denied the charges Sunday while being led to court in shackles, wearing a white blindfold.

“I have not done anything wrong. This is all fabrication,” he defiantly told reporters.

The imam’s arrest could result in the release of the girl — who supporters say is mentally disabled — from prison, where she faces a life sentence if convicted of charges she desecrated the Quran. A bail hearing is scheduled for Monday.

But Christians who fled the neighborhood when the girl was arrested worry about the use of laws that critics say are often abused to settle scores or target minorities.

“We all are suffering,” said Somera Ashraf, a Christian woman from the girl’s neighborhood.

Ashraf and her family fled the neighborhood with many other Christians when the blasphemy allegations came to light, fearing retribution. She only recently returned but still doesn’t feel safe.

Police said Chishti planted pages of a Quran in a shopping bag containing burned papers and ash that had been carried by the Christian girl. The bag was then submitted as evidence to the police.

A member of his mosque came forward Saturday — more than two weeks after the girl’s arrest — and accused the imam of planting the evidence, said the investigating officer, Munir Jaffery.

The case has shone an uncomfortable spotlight on the punishments for violating Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and caused an uproar in the country, largely because of the girl’s age and questions about her mental capacity.

The girl’s supporters say she is 11 years old and has Down syndrome; a medical board said that she was about 14, but her mental age didn’t match her physical age.

The girl’s attorney, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, said the imam’s arrest proves his client is innocent and said he will likely move to have the case thrown out Monday.

Rarely, if ever, are people who bring blasphemy charges investigated or arrested for misuse of the law.

Ali Dayan Hasan, head of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, said that the decision to act against the cleric was “unprecedented.”

“What it indicates is a genuine attempt at investigation rather than blaming the victim, which is what normally happens in blasphemy cases,” Hasan said. “They are actually taking a look at incitement to violence and false allegations. It is a welcome and positive development.”

Few leaders have been willing to tackle the contentious issue after two prominent politicians who criticized the law were murdered last year. One was shot by his own bodyguard, who then attracted adoring crowds.

Outside the mosque where the imam worked, Muslim residents said the charges against their religious leader were trumped up by a fellow mosque member who had caused problems in the past. If anything, they said, there hasn’t been enough punishment of people accused of blasphemy.