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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen