A Pakistani court yesterday granted bail to a Christian girl accused of blasphemy, in a case that has sparked an international outcry.
Judge Muhammad Azam Khan ordered the release of Rimsha Masih, who was arrested in a poor Islamabad suburb on Aug. 16 accused of burning papers containing verses from the Koran.
“The bail application has been accepted against two sureties of 500,000 rupees [US$5,200] each,” Khan said to a packed courtroom.
Campaigners stepped up calls for Rimsha’s release after police arrested a cleric for allegedly tampering with evidence last Saturday.
His deputy and two assistants said Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti tried to bolster the case against the girl by planting pages from the Koran among the burnt papers that were brought to him.
Rimsha had been held in the high-security Adiyala jail in the city of Rawalpindi.
She is “uneducated” and has a mental age of less than 14, according to a medical report.
Proceedings to free Rimsha on bail have been repeatedly postponed, most recently on Monday, when Judge Muhammad Azam Khan again adjourned the matter after the lawyer for her accuser asked for a stay to show solidarity with a provincial lawyers’ strike.
A group of around a dozen people suffering from Down’s syndrome stood outside the court and demanded to meet Rimsha, but she was not brought to court from jail.
It is unprecedented to see anyone investigated for making a false allegation or interfering with evidence in blasphemy cases.
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 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 and even unproven allegations can prompt a violent public response.
Last year, politician Salman Taseer and a Christian Cabinet minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated after calling for the laws to be reformed.