Christian Pakistani girl granted bail after accusation of blasphemy
A Christian Pakistani girl has been granted bail after being imprisoned for two weeks on charges of blasphemy. The girl, named Rimsha Masih, was accused of burning sacred Islamic texts. Bail has been set at one million rupees (£6,245) for Masih, who is reportedly mentally disabled.
There is public outrage and confusion over the details of the case: Masih’s age has been reported as ranging from 11 to 16; there are contrasting witness statements claiming she was, and was not, seen burning the material. It is unknown what exact sacred Islamic texts she was meant to have burnt and, it is claimed, the Muslim community deny she is mentally disabled.
Further complicating the trial on the 2nd of September, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, the man who first accused her of the crime, was arrested on suspicion of planting pages of sacred text in Masih’s bag to create more evidence.
Masih’s arrest has brought global attention to the extreme blasphemy laws in Pakistan under which even minors can be trialed and executed. No person has yet been executed on blasphemy charges in the country but prison sentencing is severe: A Christian couple were sentenced to 25 years imprisonment in 2010 after they were accused of touching the Qu’ran with unwashed hands.
Religious tension is rife in Pakistan where 97% of the 180 million population is Muslim. In fear of persecution, Masih’s family have reportedly fled and as many as 900 Christians living in the outskirts of Masih’s home city and Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, have been ordered to leave their neighbourhoods after Masih’s incident led to widespread protests against the Christian presence.
Despite the volatile reaction of locals, few high profile Pakistanis are pushing for the prosecution of Masih and the police showed reluctance to arrest her.
Ali Dayan Hasan, the head of the Pakistani Human Rights Watch, vocalised his pleasure at the judge’s decision to grant Masih bail and highlighted the abuse rife in blasphemy allegations: “All charges against her should be dropped… 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.”