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Lawyers seek bail for Pakistani girl

31 August 2012

AP

Court appearance: Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, the lawyer representing Rimsha Masih, leaves court after a hearing in Islamabad on Tuesday

Court appearance: Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, the lawyer representing Rimsha Masih, leaves court after a hearing in Islamabad on Tuesday

LAWYERS for Rimsha Masih, a young Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy ( News, 24 August), were due to appear in court yesterday in an effort to have her released on bail.

Rimsha was arrested on 16 August after accusations by Muslim neighbours in Mehrabad, a poor district of the capital Islamabad, that she had burned papers containing passages from the Qur'an.

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan prescribe long jail sentences, and even execution, for those found guilty. Opponents complain that the laws are used to settle personal scores rather than genuine cases.

On Tuesday, the chairman of the country's leading body of Muslim clerics, the All Pakistan Ulema Council, Allama Tahir Ashrafi, said: "We demand an impartial and thorough investigation. Strict action should be taken against all those accusing the girl, if she is found innocent. The government should make this case an example so that nobody will dare misuse the blasphemy law in future."

Mr Ashrafi, who is also a member of a coalition of right-wing and hardline Islamist groups, the Defense of Pakistan Council, warned that if the case were mishandled, it would reflect badly on Muslims.

He urged Christians who fled Mehrabad after the incident to return. "This is inhuman, that those who have nothing to do with the case, or are not a party to it, are also being harassed. It is just like the law of the jungle, that 500 people approached a police station and got a report forcibly lodged with the police."

Earlier this week, the girl's age and mental state was assessed in hospital, after claims that she had Down syndrome. A report by a panel of doctors stated that she was "approximately 14", and might be mentally impaired. Afterwards, her lawyer, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, said that they had applied to have her case heard under juvenile law.

Demonstrations have taken place in Pakistan in support of Rimsha. The chairman of the Bishops' Council in Sindh province, Bishop Arshad Khokhar, told protesters in Karachi on Saturday: "Rimsha has been sent to jail without any proof. We demand this law should be repealed; people are misusing it. And Rimsha should be released immediately".

 

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