Chorus rises in Pak for Christian girl`s release
Islamabad: Rights activists and civil society groups on Thursday called for the release of a Pakistani Christian girl arrested on a charge of blasphemy even as the lawyer of her accuser warned that any move to change the blasphemy law could trigger a violent reaction from hardliners.
Dozens of activists, including members of the NGO Life For All, gathered outside a court in Islamabad where a bail hearing for Rimsha Masih was scheduled and demanded that her release.
The protest was part of an international campaign launched by Avaaz organisation.
The members of Life For All carried placards with the inscription: "More than 20,000 people in the world demand freedom for Rimsha Masih".
Rights activist Tahira Abdullah told the media: "This will go on and on and this minor girl will rot in jail. We want her out of jail. We want her under protection".
Rimsha`s case has prompted concern from Western governments and the Vatican.
It has also focused attention once again on Pakistan`s controversial blasphemy law, under which a person can be punished with life in prison or death.
Rights groups have warned that the law is often used to settle personal scores or persecute minorities like Christians.
District and Sessions Judge Jawad Abbas of Islamabad adjourned Rimsha`s bail hearing after the lawyer of her accuser challenged an official medical board`s report which concluded she is a minor.
The judge said the bail hearing will be conducted on September 1 after he seeks a clarification on how Rimsha`s medical examination was conducted.
Rao Abdur Raheem, the lawyer representing the man who accused Rimsha of burning pages of the Quran, challenged the medical board`s report that stated she was aged between 12 and 14 years and that her mental development did not correspond with her age.
"The victim has admitted that she burned a chapter of the Quran," Raheem told reporters outside the court.
"The doctors are favouring the victim and the state is also supporting her," he claimed.
Raheem further said he did not want to see Rimsha`s case turned into one that focussed on changing the blasphemy law.
He warned such a move could trigger a violent reaction from hardliners.
"There are many Mumtaz Qadris in this country and we will support them," Raheem said, referring to the police guard who gunned down Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer after he criticised the blasphemy law last year.
Meanwhile, activists said the 600-odd Christian families
that fled Mehria Jaffar area after Rimsha`s arrest on August 16 were facing an uncertain future.
"They have been living in different parts of Islamabad. They were promised shelter and food until it would be safe to return to their homes," said Xavier P William, president of Life For All.
"Unfortunately, that promise was never fulfilled and they remain in an uncertain situation. They are felt alone in this turmoil," William said.
Life For All and other groups have planned protests tomorrow in Rawalpindi and Lahore to support Rimsha, he said.
In an open letter released through Avaaz organisation, Rimsha`s father Misrek Masih has urged President Asif Ali Zardari to pardon her.
He said an angry crowd had threatened to "burn her alive" after accusing her of burning pages of the Quran.
Masih insisted that Rimsha has Down Syndrome and "often isn`t in control of her actions".
He said: "I`m asking President Asif Ali Zardari, who has already called for further attention into my daughter`s case, to pardon her and to prevent other people from being persecuted under these harsh laws like my daughter".
Masih added: "We are a Christian family, we respect the religious rights of others. We simply wish for the safety of our daughter and our community and wish this had never happened".
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