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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious 5
film
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
  • Get to the point
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: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss