Judge grants bail in Pakistan blasphemy case

Fourteen-year-old Christian girl, accused of burning pages of Quran, asked to furnish one million rupees as bail amount.

Defence lawyer said it was for the first time anyone has been released on bail for blasphemy in Pakistan [Reuters]
Defence lawyer said it was for the first time anyone has been released on bail for blasphemy in Pakistan [Reuters]

A Christian girl arrested in Pakistan for defaming Islam has been granted bail days after police detained a Muslim cleric on suspicion of planting evidence to frame her.

Judge Muhammad Azam Khan on Friday accepted the bail application of 14-year-old girl who was arrested in a poor Islamabad suburb on August 16 accused of burning papers containing verses from the Quran.

“The bail application has been accepted against two sureties of 500,000 rupees ($5,200) each,” the judge announced to a packed courtroom.

However, it is unclear when the girl would be released or whether her family will be able to afford the bail.

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Rimsha’s lawyer, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, said she would not be released until Saturday at the earliest and that a date for the next hearing would be fixed in three or four months’ time.

“Surety bonds could not be submitted today because the court time has finished. We will submit the surety bonds tomorrow,” Chaudhry told AFP news agency.

Chaudhry said it was the first time anyone has been released on bail for blasphemy in Pakistan.

Asked where Rimsha will go after being released, he said she would be looked after with her family, who are in hiding.

“She will be kept in a safe and protected place with her family members,” he said.

This case generated an uproar because of reports that the girl was so young and suffered from a learning disability.

Last week her lawyer said: “The medical report has declared her an underage person with low IQ. How can she commit blasphemy?”

The case sparked international criticism of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.

Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Islamabad, said: “Supporters of the girl are cheering the news, but there are many questions that remain unanswered.”

“Perhaps most importantly, whether or not the charges are going to stick,” he said.

‘Long road ahead’

The Al Jazeera correspondent said that “only a few days ago, the imam who first brought these charges was arrested for tampering with evidence”. “That still needs to be sorted out,” he said.

“Is the girl convicted of blasphemy going to be tried as an adult or as a minor? The concern is that if she is tried as an adult, she could, if convicted, face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment or death.

“Many supporters are pleased, but still there is a very long road ahead.”

Campaigners stepped up calls for her release after police on Saturday arrested a cleric for allegedly tampering with the evidence.

His deputy and two assistants said Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti tried to bolster the case against the girl by planting pages from the Quran among the burnt papers that were brought to him.

Under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, insulting the prophet Mohammed is punishable by death and burning a sacred text by life imprisonment.

Blasphemy is a very sensitive subject in Pakistan, where 97 per cent of the 180 million population are Muslims, and allegations of insulting Islam or the prophet Mohammed often prompt a furious public reaction.

Rights groups have called on Pakistan to reform its blasphemy legislation, which they say is often abused to settle personal vendettas.

Last year, leading politician Salman Taseer and a Christian cabinet minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated after calling for the law to be reformed.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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