Pakistan court grants bail to Down syndrome 'blasphemy' girl
By Nasir Jaffry ,AFP
September 8, 2012, 12:03 am TWN
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A Pakistani court on Friday 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.
"I accept her bail application," Khan announced to a packed courtroom.
"The bail application has been accepted against two sureties of 500,000 rupees (US$5,200) each."
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 Koran among the burnt papers that were brought to him.
Rimsha had been held in the high-security Adiyala jail in Islamabad's twin city Rawalpindi.
She is "uneducated" and has a mental age of less than 14, according to a medical report, and her case prompted international concern and anger from rights campaigners.
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 syndrome stood outside the court and demanded to meet Rimsha, but she was not brought to court from jail.
"We want to meet the Down syndrome girl Rimsha," said a banner they were holding.
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, where 97 percent 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 and even unproven allegations can prompt a violent public response.