Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pakistani Judge Grants Bail for Christian Girl Accused of Blasphemy

By Peter Wooding
Europe Bureau Chief for ASSIST News Service

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- According to media reports, a 14-year-old Pakistani Christian girl who was accused last month of blasphemy against Islam, has been granted bail by the judge.

A new picture of Rimsha Masih
Rimsha Masih, who is said to be “mentally challenged,” had been accused of burning pages of the Koran and taken into custody. The incident prompted worldwide protests and outcry.

Eventually, witnesses came forward reporting that a Muslim cleric had torn pages from a Koran and planted them in Masih’s bag which contained burned papers. The cleric was arrested this week for attempting to frame the young girl who is said to be illiterate.

According to Open Doors News it is rare that bail is granted in a blasphemy case, partly for the defendant’s own safety, but Masih’s lawyers pleaded that she was a juvenile. The girl is expected to be released shortly, after which a further application will be made to drop all charges against her.

Robinson Asghar, aide to the Minister for National Harmony, told Reuters that she is expected to re-join her family in a secret location. Asghar said there are no plans to send Masih abroad. Prosecution lawyers said this was a risk, as a result of the prominence the case has received in international media.

The girl with her head covered leaving court
Asghar’s boss, Minister Paul Bhatti, is closely concerned with the girl’s security after his brother Shahbaz, then himself Minister for Minorities, was shot dead in March 2011 for challenging the blasphemy laws and for supporting Asia Bibi, a mother-of-five who also had been charged with blasphemy and is being held in a top security cell while she appeals her death sentence.

Open Doors News went on to report that Rimsha’s original accuser, her neighbor Malik Ammad, was supported by the local mosque leader, Khalid Jadoon. In Friday’s hearing, Ammad’s lawyers argued that Rimsha should not receive bail, as she had confessed.

However, Pakistan’s leading daily “Dawn” reports that, on Wednesday, police interviewed Rimsha again for an hour, during which she is reported to have denied all charges.

The mosque leader has now been charged with blasphemy by planting pages of the Koran among burnt papers in Rimsha’s bags. He denies the charge, seen as desecration of the Muslim holy book, carrying a sentence of life imprisonment. He could also be convicted of falsely accusing a minor. Jadoon remains in custody until Sepember 16th.

Human Rights Watch and civil society groups welcomed the decision. The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, speaking to Open Doors News, hailed this as a landmark case.

Shamim Masih, an ANS correspondent in Pakistan and also a Christian rights activist, said, “A large number of security personnel, members of civil society and international media persons were present outside the court as Judge Azam Khan heard the bail application of the accused girl whose case has made headlines in the international and local media.”

He added that one group, Reformation for Empowerment and Alleviation of Poverty (REAP), has announced that they plan to cover Rimsha’s educational expenses in the future.

The big question now is, can the young girl can be protected against violence by Pakistan extremists, as there have been several previous occasions when other Christians accused of blasphemy have been brutally murdered.

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