A judge has granted bail to a young Christian girl accused of insulting Islam in Pakistan.
The decision by Mohammed Azam Khan over the girl, who is thought to have Down’s syndrome, could help defuse some of the uproar the case has generated.
The case has focused attention on Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, which human rights activists say are regularly used to persecute Christians. However, it is unclear how the girl’s family will be able to afford bail, which was set at one million Pakistani rupees (£6,500).
“We feel that this is the real victory of truth and law,” said Robinson Asghar, an aide to the Pakistani minister for national harmony who has been closely following the case.
The girl, who is reported to be 14, was arrested after an angry mob surrounded her house in a neighbourhood in Islamabad and accused her of burning pages from the Koran, an act punishable by life in prison under the country’s harsh blasphemy laws. Her lawyer has denied the allegation.
In an unusual twist, police arrested a Muslim cleric from her neighbourhood a week ago after a follower from his mosque accused him of stashing pages of a Koran in her bag to make it seem as if she burned them.
He allegedly planted the evidence to push Christians out of the neighbourhood and is now being investigated for blasphemy himself. He has denied the allegation.
The judge gave no reason for granting bail.
During the lengthy hearing in Islamabad, lawyers for the girl argued that the accusations against the cleric had raised reasonable doubt about her culpability in the case.
“No evidence has been brought up against her for wilfully committing this crime,” said one of her lawyers, Pervez Khan.
Rao Abdur Raheem, a lawyer for the man who brought the complaint against the girl, said the judge felt she was better able to defend herself outside prison but cautioned that the case would continue.
“This doesn’t mean the allegations against her were wrong,” he said. She was expected to be released late yesterday or today.