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Copter Takes Pakistani Christian Girl From Prison

Saturday, 08 Sep 2012 11:05 AM


ISLAMABAD — A Pakistani military helicopter plucked a young Christian girl accused of blasphemy from a prison yard on Saturday and flew her to a secret location after she was granted bail.

Live broadcasts showed heavily-armed police surrounding Rimsha Masih, believed to be no older than 14, covering her face with a green scarf as she walked to the helicopter.

A judge granted Masih bail on Friday and her lawyers are applying to have charges that she burned pages from the Quran dismissed after a local cleric was detained on suspicion of planting false evidence to stir resentment against Christians.

Even before that arrest, Masih's case provoked international concern as she could face execution under Pakistan's blasphemy law despite her young age and reported mental problems.

The dramatic nature of Masih's release underlined the fear for her life.

The lawyer prosecuting her suggested she could be lynched if found not guilty. Blasphemy charges are frequently followed by deadly riots against minority communities.

Despite international condemnation, the blasphemy law still enjoys widespread support among ordinary Pakistanis.

Two high-ranking government officials who had suggested its reform were shot dead, one by his own bodyguard. Lawyers threw rose petals at that killer and the judge who convicted him was forced to flee the country.

The number of cases brought under the law is rising rapidly and rights groups fear it is mostly being used to settle personal vendettas.

Since 1987, there have been almost 250 blasphemy cases, according to Pakistani think tank the Center for Research and Security Studies.

It said 52 people had been killed after being accused of blasphemy since 1990.

Rights activists welcomed the decision after calling for her release since she was arrested three weeks ago.

Judge Mohammed Azam Khan set bail Friday at 1 million Pakistani rupees, or about $10,500, The Associated Press reported. The bail is a significant sum in a country where many families live on only a few dollars a day.

The young girl, who is reported to be 14 years old and suffering from some form of mental impairment, was arrested after an angry mob showed up at a police station in her neighborhood in Islamabad and accused her of burning pages from the Quran. Her lawyer has denied the allegation.

The head of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, Ali Dayan Hasan, praised the judge's decision to grant the young girl bail.

"The fact is that this child should not have been behind bars at all," Hasan told The Associated Press. "All charges against her should be dropped, and Pakistan's criminal justice system should instead concentrate on holding her accuser accountable for inciting violence against the child and members of the local Christian community."

Hasan added, "Human Rights Watch hopes that the blatant abuse that has come to light in this case will lead to a considered re-examination of the law, and all stake-holders in Pakistan will actively seek to end frequent abuses perpetrated under cover of blasphemy allegations."





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