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Pakistani Court Grants Bail To Christian 'Blasphemy' Girl

Khalid Chishti, the imam of a local mosque, was charged with blasphemy for tampering with evidence in the case.
Khalid Chishti, the imam of a local mosque, was charged with blasphemy for tampering with evidence in the case.
A Pakistani court has 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 August 16 accused of burning papers containing verses from the Koran.

Khan told a packed courtroom on September 7 that he had accepted Masih's application for bail. He said bail had been set at around $10,500.

However, it was unclear whether the girl's poor family would be able to afford bail.

Robinson Asghar, an aide to the minister for national harmony, said if bail payment was met, Masih, who is believed to be 14, would be reunited with her family at a location that is being kept secret for security reasons.

He told Reuters there were no plans to send the girl abroad.

Accuser Arrested

Campaigners stepped up calls for Masih's release after police on September 1 arrested a Muslim cleric for allegedly tampering with the evidence.

His aides said Hafiz 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.

Under Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, insulting the Prophet Muhammad is punishable by death, and burning a sacred text by life imprisonment.

For decades, rights groups have called on Islamabad to reform these laws, which they say are often abused to settle personal vendettas and persecute Christians.

Abusing The Law

Blasphemy is a very sensitive subject in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the 180 million population are Muslims.

Masih's lawyer, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that anyone advocating the rights of those accused in blasphemy shares their dangers.

"I think people implicated in such cases or even those who raised their voice for the accused have faced threats to their lives," Chaudhry said.

Allegations of insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad often prompt a furious public reaction.

Those accused under a blasphemy law are sometimes killed by members of the public even if they are found innocent by the courts.

In 2011, leading politician Salman Taseer and a Christian cabinet minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated after calling for the law to be reformed.

Taseer's convicted killer is being held in the same jail as Masih.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa, and RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal
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