Pakistan frees Christian girl charged with blasphemy
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A young, mentally-challenged Christian girl who was accused of blasphemy after she was found to be in possession of burned pages of the Koran has been released from jail, Pakistani officials said Saturday, a day after a court granted her bail.
AFP - A Christian girl accused of blasphemy was released on bail in Pakistan Saturday after spending more than three weeks in jail, in a case that has sparked an international outcry.
Rimsha Masih, dressed in a traditional baggy green shirt and dark-green trousers, was seen stepping out of an armoured vehicle before being whisked to a waiting helicopter to be reunited with her family.
Arrested on August 16 under blasphemy laws for allegedly burning papers containing Koranic verses, her plight has attracted sharp condemnation because she is underage, illiterate and said to suffer from learning difficulties.
Paul Bhatti, Pakistan's minister for national harmony whose brother was assassinated last year for calling for the laws to be reformed, confirmed Rimsha's release along with her lawyer Tahir Naveed Chaudhry.
"She has been freed from the jail and was transported by a helicopter to a safe place. Her family members received her," Bhatti told AFP.
Her bail had been posted at one million rupees ($10,400) -- a huge amount for most Pakistanis.
Chaudhry said two guarantors submitted the surety bond promising that Rimsha would appear back in court when called, with the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance assisting with the paperwork.
Blasphemy is a very sensitive subject in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the 180 million population are Muslims, and allegations of insulting Islam or the prophet Mohammed often prompt a furious public reaction.
Insulting the prophet Mohammed is punishable by death and burning a sacred text by life imprisonment.
An official medical report has classified her as "uneducated" and aged 14, but with a mental age younger than her years. Others have said she is as young as 11 and suffers from Down's Syndrome.
Rimsha's case took a dramatic development when a cleric who had accused her was arrested last week for allegedly planting evidence against her and on charges of himself desecrating the Koran.
Unlike in previous blasphemy cases, no Muslim clerics, political or religious parties have organised demonstrations against Rimsha.
A prominent Muslim cleric said his All Pakistan Ulema Council was prepared to offer Rimsha protection if necessary and called for a fair trial for all involved.
"All those who staged this drama and were active behind the scenes should be punished and brought to justice," the cleric, Tahir Ashrafi, told AFP.
After her arrest in a poor Islamabad suburb, Rimsha had been held in the same jail as the convicted killer of politician Salman Tasser, murdered outside a coffee shop by his bodyguard because he called for a reform to blasphemy laws.
Rights groups say Rimsha should never have been held in the first place.
They have called on Pakistan to reform its blasphemy legislation, saying it is too often abused to settle personal vendettas.