CAIRO - A Pakistani court granted bail on Friday, September 7, to a young Christian girl jailed on a blasphemy charge days after police detained a Muslim imam on suspicion of planting evidence to frame her in a case that caused an international outcry.
Muslim leaders across Pakistan have united against this type of discrimination that is targeting the Christian community, Paul Bhatti, Minister for National Harmony, told The Washington Post.
I am very hopeful for that and very happy that justice has prevailed.
Christian girl Rimsha, which is reported to be suffering from down syndrome, was arrested last month under Pakistan's blasphemy law over holding burnt pages which had Islamic text and Qur'anic verses on them.
But the arrest has prompted outcry from Western governments, the Vatican and rights groups, who have complained that blasphemy law are often abused to settle personal scores.
A conviction for blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan.
In a twist of events, Imam Khalid Jadoon was arrested last Sunday on suspicion of putting two burnt pages of the Noble Qur'an in the page of Rimsha.
The imam, who is under investigation on suspicion of blasphemy, denies the allegations.
On Friday, Judge Mohammed Azam Kahn set her bail at 1 million rupees, or $10,500, a huge sum for most Pakistanis.
Bhatti said police described the girl as mentally challenged, but disputed reports that she had Down Syndrome.
She should be treated under juvenile law and must be released on bail, attorney Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, representing the girl, argued in court Friday morning.
This incident has brought a bad name to Pakistan around the world, and country's reputation has been damaged.
But Rao Abdul Rahim, the opposing counsel, maintained that the girl was 16 and had confessed to burning the holy book.
The court has no other option but to award [her] with due punishment.
Fearing that the girl might be may be in danger if she is set free, Rimsha would be reunited with her family at a location that was being kept secret for security reasons, said Robinson Asghar, an aide to Minister Bhatti.
Pakistan's human rights leaders welcomed Rimsha's release and urged authorities to consider reforming the law.
"This child should not have been behind bars at all. All charges against her should be dropped," the international rights group said in a statement cited by Reuters.
"Pakistan's criminal justice system should instead concentrate on holding her accuser accountable for inciting violence against the child and members of the local Christian community."
However, some Pakistanis were disappointed that Rimsha had not been sentenced.
"This is wrong. She burned the Koran," said resident Ijaz Sarwar near the local mosque.
Saddam Hussein, 18, expressed sympathies for the imam accused of framing Rimsha.
"If she is freed, the maulvi (imam) should be freed as well," he said.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws came under the spotlight in 2010 after a Christian woman was sentenced to death in a case stemming from a village dispute.
In January 2011, Punjab governor Salman Taseer was killed by his bodyguard over his criticism of the blasphemy law.
In addition to Taseer death, Pakistan's Minister of Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of the government, was assassinated later on March 4, 2011.
According to Pakistan's blasphemy law, insulting any Prophet in Pakistan, a country where 95 percent of the population is Muslim, is a crime punishable with death or life imprisonment.
The law, commonly known as 295-C, was introduced in early 1980s by late President General Zia-ul-Haq.
Since then, some 700 cases of blasphemy have been registered, half of which are against Muslims.
But rights groups say the law is often exploited to settle personal scores.