Girl accused of blasphemy in Pakistan granted bail
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ISLAMABAD -- A Pakistani court granted bail Friday to a young Christian girl whose jailing on a blasphemy charge three weeks ago spurred an international outcry over the treatment of religious minorities.
Police arrested the girl, said to be 14, after a young man claimed that he saw her carrying burnt pages of the Quran in a trash bag in her village outside Islamabad. Under Pakistani laws that forbid desecrating the Quran, the girl faces life in prison.
Judge Mohammad Azam Khan set her bail at 1 million rupees, or $10,500, a huge sum for most Pakistanis. But Paul Bhatti, who heads Pakistan's Ministry of National Harmony, predicted that the girl would be released Friday evening from the high-security prison near Rawalpindi.
Muslim leaders across Pakistan have united "against this type of discrimination that is targeting the Christian community," Mr. Bhatti said in an interview. "I am very hopeful for that and very happy that justice has prevailed."
In the past, officials have been reticent to speak out against the blasphemy law, despite growing criticism from human rights advocates and legal experts who say the charges are often concocted to settle scores or persecute minorities. Christians make up about 2 percent of Pakistan's Muslim-majority population of 180 million.
After word of her alleged crime spread through the mixed Muslim-Christian community where her family lives, a mob threatened to burn the girl alive. Police later said they arrested her for her own safety.
Last week, the imam of the neighborhood mosque was arrested after a congregant accused him of mixing pages of a Quran into the bag of burnt papers the girl carried. Christian residents said he planted the evidence as part of a campaign to get Christians to leave the community. Several hundred have fled since the girl's arrest.
The imam, who is under investigation on suspicion of blasphemy, denies the allegations.
The accused girl's age has been variously reported at between 11 and 16, but a medical board convened by the court determined that she was 14. The experts said, however, that her mental state did not correspond to her age.
Mr. Bhatti said arrangements have been made to take the girl to an undisclosed location after her release, for her own safety.
First Published September 8, 2012 12:00 am