Rimsha Masih, the Christian girl who was arrested for an alleged blasphemous act three weeks ago, was granted bail in a landmark decision for a case that has sparked an international outcry. One of her lawyers said it was the first time anyone has been released on bail for blasphemy in Pakistan.
The case of Rimsha, who was accused of setting fire to papers inscribed with verses from the Holy Quran, incited particular condemnation because she is underage, illiterate and said to suffer from learning difficulties.
Additional Sessions Judge Muhammad Azam Khan announced her bail for Rs1 million in a packed, sweltering courtroom after hours of chaotic proceedings, but Rimsha is likely to spend another night in custody because there was not enough time to post the bail bonds.
During proceedings, Rimsha’s counsel, Raja Akram Ameen, requested the court to grant bail to his client saying that nothing had been proven against her so far.
He pointed out that since the cleric who accused Rimsha of blasphemy was arrested for the same charges, it was likely that the evidence against his client was fabricated to force the Christian community out of the area.
Investigation Officer Munir Jaffery backed Ameen’s claim, informing the court that the cleric, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, had allegedly tampered with the evidence by deliberately planting burnt pages of the Holy Quran in a plastic bag that Rimsha was carrying. He added that Chishti was sent on judicial remand and would be produced before the court on September14.
The prosecutor, Advocate Rao Abdur Rahim, claimed that the investigation officer and doctors were “manipulating” the evidence, under pressure. He also claimed that Rimsha had confessed to committing blasphemy, and added that there was no reason to grant her bail.
“Today’s order of the court has brought a good name for the country because Rimsha is a daughter of Pakistan,” Riaz Anjum, one of the lawyers defending the Christian girl, told The Express Tribune.
“It is not only a victory for Pakistan but for all our Muslim brothers and sisters all over the world who raised their voice for Rimsha. The entire Christian community is grateful to them,” he added.
An official medical report has classified Rimsha as “uneducated” and aged 14, but with a mental age younger than her years. Others have said she is as young as 11 and suffers from Down’s Syndrome. She has been held in jail since her arrest in Mehrabadi, a poor Islamabad suburb, on August 16.
According another lawyer, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, Rimsha would be released on Saturday (today) at the earliest and that a date for the next hearing would be fixed in three or four months’ time.
“It is unprecedented in the history of Pakistan for anyone accused of blasphemy to be granted bail,” Chaudhry told AFP.
“She will be kept in a safe and protected place with her family,” he said.
Minister for National Harmony Paul Bhatti welcomed the verdict.
“We are in touch with the interior ministry and police, and they have assured us that wherever she stays full security would be provided to her,” he told a news conference. “Her mother is very happy that justice had been done,” he added.
Supporters and human rights activists have demanded that the case be closed, particularly after Chishti was arrested. (With additional reporting by Qaiser Zulfikar and AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2012.
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