A young Christian girl arrested on a blasphemy charge that has sparked an international outcry will remain in a high-security jail till at least Friday as the court hearing her case was adjourned on Monday.
Judge Muhammad Azam Khan adjourned the case until September 7 because of a lawyers' strike on Monday. The adjournment followed a request from the lawyer of Malik Ammad, the man who filed the complaint against Rimsha Masih.
Rimsha has been held at Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi after she was arrested from the low-income Mehria Jaffar area on the outskirts of Islamabad on August 16.
She was accused of burning pages of a primer used to teach children the Quran and was booked by police under the harsh blasphemy law. However, in a twist in the case, police on Saturday arrested Khalid Chishti, the imam of the mosque in Rimsha's neighbourhood, after his deputy told the police that the cleric had stuffed pages of a holy book into the girl's shopping bag to implicate her in the matter.
Chishti's deputy Hafiz Mohammad Zubair and two other men told a magistrate the cleric added pages to burnt pages and ashes brought to him by another man. A report from an official medical board last week said Rimsha appeared to be around 14 years old and that her mental development did not correspond with her age.
The court was forced to re-examine the report after the lawyer of Rimsha's accuser challenged it. Chishti had acknowledged in a television interview last week that he had, during a recent sermon, called for the eviction of all Christians from the neighbourhood if they did not stop their prayer services because 'Pakistan is an Islamic country given by Allah'.
Pakistan Ulema Council chief Allama Tahir Ashrafi asked the supreme court chief Justice to take suo moto notice of the incident and to initiate action against those who had really desecrated the Quran and then blamed the Christian girl for the incident.
Rimsha's case has prompted concern from Western governments and the Vatican. It has also focused attention once again on Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law, under which a person can be punished with life in prison or death.
Rights groups have warned that the law is often used to settle personal scores or persecute minorities such as Christians.