ISLAMABAD: A court adjourned on Thursday a bail hearing for a Christian girl accused of blasphemy, prompting human rights activists to make fresh calls for her release in a case that has drawn renewed criticism of the country’s anti-blasphemy laws.
The girl, named Rimsha, has been held since August 16 on suspicion of desecrating the Muslim holy book, an offence that can carry a life prison sentence under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws.
Doctors and officials are “favouring” a young Pakistani Christian girl charged with blasphemy after allegedly burning papers containing Qurani verses, the lawyer for her accuser claimed today.
A medical report earlier this week said Rimsha was around 14 years old – her age had been in dispute – and appeared to be “uneducated” with a mental age below her true age.
But after a brief hearing in the case on Thursday, which Rimsha did not attend, Rao Abdur Raheem, the lawyer representing her accuser, rejected the doctors’ assessment.
“The victim has admitted that she burned a chapter of the Holy Quran,” he told reporters outside court in Islamabad.
“The doctors are favouring the victim and the state is also supporting her.”
Raheem also objected to the medical examination because it was carried out a day before the court formally requested it. Judge Raja Jawad Abbas Hassan adjourned the case to Saturday to seek clarification on the report.
The lawyer said he did not want to see Masih’s case turned into another one focusing on changing the law, and he warned that to do so could again incite a violent reaction.
“There are many Mumtaz Qadris in this country and we will support them,” the lawyer said, referring to Governor Salmaan Taseer’s killer.
Activists demand release
Religious and secular groups worldwide have protested over the arrest this month of Rimsha Masih, accused by Muslim neighbours of burning Islamic religious texts.
“This will go on and on and this little minor girl will rot in jail,” said human rights activist Tahira Abdullah outside an Islamabad court. “We want her out of jail. We want her under protection.”
Rimsha’s case has prompted concern from Western governments and the Vatican and anger from human rights campaigners, who have warned the laws are often used to settle personal vendettas.
In July a mob of more than 2,000 snatched a mentally unstable man from a police station, beat him to death and torched his body after he was accused of burning pages from the Holy Quran.