A Pakistani court on Friday granted bail to the minor girl afflicted with Down Syndrome who had been arrested under the blasphemy law 22 days ago for allegedly burning pages of the Quran. The bail was granted a week after the police arrested a local cleric on the basis of testimonies that he had planted the incriminating evidence to orchestrate a situation that would result in an exodus of Christians from a slum cluster on the outskirts of the federal capital.

When the girl will be released was unclear as the bail was granted subject to two sureties of Rs. 5 lakh each. Soon after bail was set, the All Pakistan Minorities Association announced that it would furnish the sureties as Rimsha’s family was in no position to do so.

The bail was granted after the case was taken up for hearing by an Additional Sessions Judge in the morning. At the hearing, a muezzin of the mosque in the slum cluster, Hafiz Zubair, said cleric Khalid Judoon Chishti had put pages of the Quran in the polythene bag containing burnt papers that Rimsha was carrying. Zubair also told the court that the entire episode had been staged to force the Christians who reside in the cluster to leave the area.

In fact, soon after the girl was arrested, nearly 300 Christian families had fled the area fearing a backlash. Some of them claimed that the police encouraged them to leave instead of offering them protection. They have subsequently returned to the area; partly because of the efforts of Muslim neighbours. One newspaper report suggested that they were encouraged to return by a property dealer of the area who preferred the submissive Christians as tenants to the Pathans who are more aggressive in their approach.

From the day the girl was arrested, there were indications that she was a victim of local politics – particularly rivalries between different `qabza groups’ (encroacher mafia). Though hers is not the first case of a minor being charged under the blasphemy laws – which carry death sentence – Rimsha’s case captured the headlines owing to her medical condition and also the fact that this was happening right on the doorsteps of the federal capital.

Also, in this case, a section of clerics picked up cudgels for Rimsha; particularly the chairman of Pakistan Ulema Council Hafiz Mohammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi. The Council has offered protection to Rimsha and her family in view of the fact that even those who have been acquitted of blasphemy charges remain in perpetual danger from vigilantes.

Maulana Ashrafi’s advocacy for the girl has been viewed by members of Pakistan’s liberal segments as an effort to ensure that the pitiable condition of the girl does not mobilise an opinion in favour of diluting the blasphemy law.

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