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As Pakistani Christian girl is granted bail, critics call for blasphemy law reform

A Pakistani judge granted bail today to a young, mentally challenged Christian girl accused of burning pages of the Islamic holy book.

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Paul Bhatti (c.), an advisor to the prime minister of Pakistan on minorities affairs, flanked by lawyers of a Pakistani girl accused of blasphemy, addresses a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Sept. 7.

B.K. Bangash/AP

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A young Christian girl, believed to have mental disabilities, accused of desecrating the Quran, has been granted bail after being kept behind bars for more than three weeks.

In Pakistan, where committing blasphemy can carry a death sentence, the case highlights how the law is abused to persecute members of minority communities in the Muslim majority country.

“The vital question here is whether or not the debate to reform and/or repeal the blasphemy law will ensue now,” says Raza Rumi, a noted columnist, who heads a think tank in Islamabad.  “The international and local outcry and robust support to the girl provided by sections of some Islamists is perhaps indicative of the way forward."

The bail hearing lasted for more than three hours on Friday morning in a crowded courtroom, with fiery arguments from both sides. The lawyer of the cleric bringing the complaint against the girl accused the police and the state of conducting investigations with malicious intentions. 

After some deliberation, the court set her bail at one million rupees (about $10,500), which one of the lawyers representing her says will be paid by a humanitarian organization working for minority rights in Pakistan.

The girl was arrested last month in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Islamabad, where her family lives. The case turned in her favor, when a local cleric, one of the witnesses against the girl, was arrested after the deputy cleric from the same mosque gave a statement to police saying he saw the cleric planting the burned pages of a Quran in the bag she was allegedly carrying.

Investigations by the Monitor correspondent also showed that the girl's locality faced rising tensions the past few months and Muslims in the area wanted to evict local Christians. “They used to disturb us by playing music during our prayer times,” one local claimed during a visit last week.

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