Girl in Pakistan blasphemy case said to be minor, boosting chance of acquittal

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 28, 2012 

— A Christian girl accused of blasphemy is a juvenile, according to a medical report presented to a Pakistani court, a finding that improves her chance of being released on bail and eventually acquitted of the charges.

The girl, who’s been identified only as Rimsha, was arrested earlier this month in Islamabad after being accused of desecrating the Quran. Her family said she was 11 years old, and had Down syndrome and mental disabilities. The Vatican has backed their plea that she be released.

The medical report judged that Rimsha was a minor, under the law, but determined that she was 14. Her lawyer, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, said the doctors also found that her mental development “does not match her age,” meaning she has learning difficulties. She was not in court.

Rimsha was charged with blasphemy after police came under pressure from an angry mob. In the charges, her age was put at 16 and she was sent to an adult maximum-security jail.

The court will hear the case again Thursday, when it will consider bail. The substance of the case will be determined at later hearings, when Rimsha will have to appear in court. Her mental capacity will be crucial to her defense.

“According to the law, she should get bail, but it is up to the court,” Chaudhry said.

He said Rimsha was extremely distressed in the jail. However, the dangers of being freed could be greater. The allegation of blasphemy is often enough to drive vigilantes to kill the accused.

“If someone has this charge of blasphemy, their life is changed. They cannot live in their homes anymore. They have to flee, with a new identity,” Chaudhry said.

Rimsha’s family members have fled their home in Islamabad, as have many of the Christians who lived in her area.

According to the blasphemy law, a guilty person has to “willfully” damage or desecrate the Quran. Critics of the law say it’s used routinely to make false and malicious allegations. A person convicted of blasphemy can be sentenced to death.

Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.

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