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Christian girl accused of blasphemy freed from Pakistani jail

The young Christian girl accused of burning pages of the Quran was released from jail Saturday. Last week a Muslim cleric was arrested for allegedly planting evidence to incriminate her.

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A Pakistani police official and a Christian volunteer escort a young Christian girl accused of blasphemy towards a helicopter following her release from central prison on the outskirts of Rawalpindi, Pakistan on Saturday.

Anjum Naveed/AP

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A young Christian girl accused of burning pages of Islam's holy book was freed Saturday from a jail near the capital where she had been held for three weeks, a Pakistani jail official said.

The release a day after a judge granted her bail is another step closer to ending an episode that has focused an uncomfortable spotlight on Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, which can result in life in prison or even death for defendants. Many critics say the laws are misused to wage vendettas or target Pakistan's vulnerable minorities like the Christians.

The jail official, Mushtaq Awan, said the girl left the prison in Rawalpindi, a garrison city near Islamabad amid tight security.

An Associated Press reporter on the scene said she was taken from the prison in an armored vehicle and whisked to a waiting helicopter while covered with a sheet to protect her identity.

A Muslim cleric from her neighborhood was arrested last week for planting evidence to incriminate the girl, an about-face in a case that has drawn strong international condemnation. Even in Pakistan where there is significant support for punishing people accused of desecrating the Quran or insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammed, the girl's age and questions about her mental state have earned her a degree of public sympathy often lacking in other blasphemy cases.

Her lawyers say they will now push to have the case against her thrown out entirely.

"Her parents were with her when she was freed from the jail, and she has been taken to a safer place," said a member of her legal team, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry.

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