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Lawyer hopeful of Pakistan blasphemy girl’s release

posted 29 Aug 2012, 16:43 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 29 Aug 2012, 16:44 ]

The counsel for Rimsha Masih, the Pakistani girl accused of blasphemy, is hopeful of her release on bail, a day ahead of the court hearing.

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (AUGUST 29, 2012) (REUTERS) - The counsel for Rimsha Masih, the Pakistani girl accused of blasphemy, was hopeful of her release on bail on Wednesday (August 29), a day ahead of the court hearing.

Religious and secular groups worldwide have protested over the arrest last week of Rimsha Masih, accused by Muslim neighbours of burning Islamic religious texts.

She was detained last week in Islamabad after mobs surrounded a police station where she was held in protective custody

Parvez Khan, one of the two lawyers representing Rishma said that the case was "eligible for bail", speaking to Reuters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi near Islamabad.

The case has put another spotlight on Pakistan's anti-blasphemy law, which rights groups say dangerously discriminates against the conservative Muslim country's tiny minority groups.

"When such an incident happens and there are no responsible people in the community who could come forward, and check this thing from blowing up or when there is a failure of administration then you have such a thing happen,"said Analyst and columnist, Ayaz Amir.

There have been conflicting reports on Masih's age and her mental state. Some media have said she is 11 and suffers from Down's Syndrome. One of the Masih's lawyer, Tahir

Naveed Chaudhry, said her family had informed him she was mentally ill. One police official said she was 16 and mentally sound.

A Christian activist Xavier William told Reuters in Islamabad on Friday (August 25) that he had visited Masih at a police station where she was first held, and then this week in prison. The girl was too frightened to speak in a prison where she is being held in solitary confinement for her safety.

Masih's arrest triggered an exodus of several hundred Christians from her poor village after mosques reported over their loudspeakers what the girl was alleged to have done.

Emotions were running high.

A neighbour named Tasleem said her daughter saw Masih throwing away trash that included the burned religious material.

In Meharabad slum, where the girl lived, Muslims and Christian neighbours said they awaited justice.

"I can only say that whatever happens tomorrow it should be fair so that neither they (Muslims) nor we (Christians) have any objection,"said Bin Yameen Masih, a Christian neighbour of Rimsha.

"We are expecting that she will get the due punishment,"said Muslim shopkeeper, Anjum Rehman.

Under the blasphemy law, anyone who speaks ill of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad commits a crime and faces the death penalty, but activists say vague terminology has led to its misuse.

Convictions are common, although the death sentence has never been carried out. Most convictions are thrown out on appeal, but mobs have killed many people accused of blasphemy.

Christians, who make up four percent of Pakistan's population of 180 million, have been especially concerned about the blasphemy law, saying it offers them no protection.

Convictions hinge on witness testimony and are often linked to vendettas, they complain.

In 2009, 40 houses and a church were set ablaze by a mob of 1,000 Muslims in the town of Gojra, in Punjab province. At least seven Christians were burned to death. The attacks were triggered by reports of the desecration of the Koran.

Two Christian brothers accused of writing a blasphemous letter against the Prophet Mohammad were gunned down outside a court in the eastern city of Faisalabad in July of 2010.

President Asif Ali Zardari has told officials to produce a report on the girl's arrest, which has brought protests from Amnesty International, British-based Christian group Barnabas Fund, and others.