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Girl (14) bailed on blasphemy charge now in danger

A mentally disabled Christian girl in Pakistan who was jailed on blasphemy charges was granted bail by a court yesterday, but her life is now under severe threat from militants.

Solitary confinement in an adult, maximum-security prison should end this morning for Rimsha Masih, after more than three weeks. But she still faces the prospect of a full trial on the blasphemy allegations.

Her lawyer, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, said they would now try to head off a trial by having the case dismissed at the Islamabad High Court.

"There is no direct evidence against Rimsha. This is a case for quashment," said Mr Chaudhry.

The Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, announced in parliament that Rimsha would be taken into protective custody "in case of a violent reaction".

Last year, two senior members of the government were gunned down by extremists in separate attacks, for merely criticising the workings of the blasphemy law, including the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, who was murdered by his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri.

Rimsha's parents have been in hiding since her arrest on 16 August.

Religious

She was accused, by a neighbour and the imam of the local mosque, of having burnt pages of the Koran and another religious text in a plastic bag that she was carrying.

A district court in Islamabad, which had twice postponed a decision on Rimsha's bail, granted her release, on a Rs1m (€8,248) surety bond. The All Pakistan Minorities Association posted the bail.

Bail being given on blasphemy charges is unknown but was possible in this case after the district court's judge accepted that she was a juvenile under law, despite objections from Rao Abdur Raheem, representing Rimsha's accuser.

Mr Malik bolstered her defence when he told parliament that though Rimsha was 14 years old, "her mental age is seven". The girl's parents, who maintain that she is 11 years old, say she has Down's syndrome. Mr Malik, who this week ordered a further investigation, said: "The material in the bag was burnt wood, not burnt papers."

For the first time, there has been government and public support for someone accused under the country's blasphemy laws, which only protect Islam.

A group of Islamic clerics, led by Tahir Ashrafi, a mullah associated with hardliners, leapt to Rimsha's defence, calling her a "daughter of the nation" and offering to protect her if the government couldn't.

Irish Independent