Christian girl in Pakistan blasphemy case released on bail
Published Saturday, September 8, 2012 11:42AM EDT
A young Christian girl was released on bail from a Pakistan jail Saturday, more than three weeks after she was accused of committing blasphemy by allegedly burning pages of the Qur’an.
Photos show the girl, her head covered in a deep green cloth, being escorted to a waiting helicopter after her release from the prison in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad.
The girl, reportedly 14-years-old and suffering some kind of mental impairment, was taken into custody Aug. 16 after neighbours accused her of burning pages of the Muslim holy book.
Under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, the act is punishable by life in prison.
But the case took a bizarre turn when police arrested Muslim cleric Khalid Chisti last week after a member of his mosque accused him of framing the girl for the crime. It was alleged that Chisti put pages of the Qur’an in the girl’s bag to make it seem as if she had burned them.
Police are now investigating Chisti for blasphemy for allegedly desecrating the Qur’an. Investigators are considering additional charges, such as fraud and making false allegations.
In a rare move, a judge granted bail to the girl on Friday. Bail, which is seldom granted to those accused in blasphemy cases, was set at one million Pakistani rupees, or about $10,500.
Ina phone interview from Kabul on Saturday, ABC News’ Muhammed Lila noted it is unclear how or whether the girl’s family, who lives in an impoverished neighbourhood, was able to afford the sum.
“In Canadian terms that’s not a high amount, but in Pakistan that is a huge sum of money. To put that into perspective, the average Pakistani makes just over $1,000 a year,” he told CTV News Channel.
Pakistani law allows the accused to put up collateral, instead of a cash bond, but Lila said that is unlikely.
“The likelihood is that the bail was paid by one of the many NGOs that have now taken up her case,” said Lila.
The girl’s lawyers say they’re now concentrated on having the case thrown out completely.
Many human rights advocates argue the girl shouldn’t have been in prison to begin with.
Activists have pointed to the case as an example of how the country’s blasphemy laws are being used to seek vengeance and persecute minorities.
Even if they aren’t convicted, those accused of blasphemy are often victims of vigilante justice by fellow Pakistanis. One man accused of blasphemy in July was dragged from a police station, beaten to death and his body set on fire.
Fearing retribution from Muslim neighbours, Christians living in the girl’s neighbourhood left the area shortly after her arrest last month.
With files from The Associated Press