Washington, D.C. (September 7, 2012) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a Christian girl arrested for blasphemy was granted bail by a Pakistani judge on Friday, days after a Muslim cleric was detained for allegedly planting evidence to frame her. The girl, however, may still stand trial after officials investigate accusations that she was blaspheming Islam, a ‘crime’ punishable by death in Pakistan.
Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old girl with mental disabilities, was arrested for defaming Islam on August 16 after she was allegedly spotted by neighbors with a plastic bag containing burned pages of the Quran. After being held for more than three weeks at a high-security jail in Rawalpindi, Judge Mohammed Azam Khan set bail at one million Pakistani rupees, or about $10,500, at a court hearing on September 7.
The case had taken an unexpected turn on Saturday when Khalid Jadoon Chisti, a local imam, was accused by a member of his mosque of planting the burned pages in Rimsha’s bag with the intent to drive Christians out of his Islamabad neighborhood. The allegations likely influenced the judge’s decision.
Rimsha will remain in jail for at least one more day, said the girl’s lawyer, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry. “Surety bonds could not be submitted today because the court time has finished. We will submit the surety bonds tomorrow,” Chaudhry told the media. Rimsha’s family, who worked as street sweepers in an impoverished district of Islamabad, may need outside financial support to free her.
A decision on whether or not Rimsha will still have to stand trial for blasphemy will be made after the completion of an official investigation, The Guardian reports. During Friday’s hearing, prosecutors attempted to block the bail and challenged a medical assessment that determined Rimsha is legally a minor with mental disabilities.
When bail is paid, Rimsha will be reunited with her family at a secure location, Chaudhry said. However, it is unlikely that Rimsha will ever be able to return home. “Once you have been accused of blasphemy it means the relocation of your family even if you are acquitted by the court,” the director of a Pakistan human rights organization in Lahore told ICC. “The people who were willing to burn Rimsha alive are now even angrier that their imam was [arrested]... There is no way she can go back to the same place.”
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “While ICC welcomes the news that Rimsha will soon be released, the fact is that she should have never been arrested in the first place. All charges against her should have been dropped at today’s court hearing. Instead, her impoverished family is forced to pay a bail they cannot afford and Rimsha will never be able to return home. Because of false accusations made by radical and deceitful neighbors, Rimsha is forced to start a new life in a country that is no longer safe for her. This all occurred as a result of Pakistan’s oppressive blasphemy laws that victimize innocent minorities by giving radical Muslims grounds to afflict vigilante justice in accordance to their own religious decrees.
“Moreover, Rimsha may be recalled to stand trial in the near future for blasphemy allegations. For this reason, ICC continues to ask for your support by signing our petition that calls for Rimsha’s safekeeping and urges the Pakistani government to drop all charges against her. Although Rimsha will soon be free, for now, the battle will not be won until the Pakistani government repeals the country’s ominous blasphemy laws. How much longer must Pakistani Christians and other innocent minorities be thrown in prison and even executed on false allegations of blasphemy? No one should fear being killed by their government or burned by a mob simply because they are a member of a minority religious community.”
Rimsha needs your help. Join ICC today in calling for the Pakistani government to immediately release and ensure the safety of Rimsha. Click here to sign our petition and help free this innocent girl from her unlawful imprisonment.
For interviews, contact Aidan Clay, Regional Manager for the Middle East: firstname.lastname@example.org
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