Bail for Pakistani girl accused of blasphemy offers hope for case's dismissal

But mentally disabled teenager who was held in solitary cell may have to flee Pakistan's hardliners

Islamabad

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

The agony of 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, told The Independent that they would now try to head off a trial by having the case dismissed at the Islamabad High Court, with their petition likely to be lodged within days. "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". Dozens of people charged with blasphemy have been murdered over the years before conviction or after the court has found them innocent.

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 already been in hiding since her arrest on 16 August, from the slum on the outskirts of Islamabad where they had lived in a one-room house. 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 previously twice postponed a decision on Rimsha's bail, granted her release, on a hefty Rs1m (£6,500) surety bond. The All Pakistan Minorities Association posted the bail. It is likely that ultimately Rimsha and her family will have to flee abroad. Bail being given on blasphemy charges is unknown but was possible in this case after the district court's judge accepted that she is a juvenile under law, despite objections from the aggressive lawyer, Rao Abdur Raheem, representing Rimsha's accuser. Mr Raheem has a poster of the convicted killer Mumtaz Qadri on the wall above his desk.

Mr Malik bolstered her defence when he told parliament that though Rimsha is 14 years old, "her mental age is seven". The girl's parents, who maintain that she is 11 years old, say 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."

Rimsha's case is tragic but, for the first time, there has been government and public support for someone accused under the country's draconian 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.

The state also fought back in Rimsha's case. A week ago, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, the imam of her neighbourhood mosque, was himself arrested and charged with blasphemy, for allegedly tearing up pages from the Koran and putting them in the bag that was handed over to police. He had already admitted in a television interview that he had sought to drive out the Christians from the mixed area, as music from the church disturbed prayers at the mosque. Mr Raheem, the lawyer for the other accuser, Malik Amad, said: "There are so many hurdles being created by the government's investigators in favour of Rimsha. But everyone knows that she is guilty."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Account Manager - OTE £80,000+

£40000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - Kent - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - ne...

Recruitment Genius: Production Team Leader / Chargehand

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a Chargehand to join ...

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project