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'Pak Christian girl accused of blasphemy mentally ill'

August 28, 2012 17:56 IST
A Pakistani Christian girl accused of desecrating the holy Quran is a minor and suffers from some form of mental impairment, a medical board has concluded, according to rights activists on Tuesday.

The report of the review of Rimsha Masih by a panel of three doctors from the state-run Polyclinic Hospital was submitted in the court of a district and sessions judge in Islamabad on Tuesday afternoon.

The same judge is hearing a petition seeking bail for Rimsha, who continues to be held in the high-security Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.

Xavier P William, president of Life For All, told PTI the medical board had concluded that Rimsha was aged between 12 and 14 and that she had some form of mental impairment. The findings of the medical board mean that Rimsha's case will have to be heard by the juvenile court system, he said.

However, Rimsha's case could not be taken up by the district and sessions court today as several lawyers claimed to represent her.

Sources said the judge took exception to the situation and asked rights groups and the lawyers to decide who would represent her by the next hearing on August 30.

"The judge has given us two more days," Sajid Ishaq, chairman of the Pakistan Interfaith League, told PTI.

Haroon Barkat Masih, chairman of the NGO Life For All, submitted a separate application in the court contended that the police had violated several procedures while arresting Rimsha from the low-income Mehria Jaffar area on the outskirts of Islamabad on August 16. He contended that the arrest was made due to pressure from a mob and Rimsha's fundamental rights were violated in the process.

Masih's petition will be taken up by the court at the next hearing, sources said.

In an unusual twist, Rimsha received support yesterday from hardline Islamic leaders, including members of the Defa-e-Pakistan Council and Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, who called for justice for the girl.

The All Pakistan Ulema Council, which includes representatives from hardline groups, joined hands with the Pakistan Interfaith League and demanded that those making false allegations of blasphemy should be punished.

Tahir Ashrafi, chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, warned that the "law of the jungle" was gripping Pakistan as police were routinely pressured by mobs to register blasphemy cases.

Rimsha was arrested after she was accused by an angry mob of burning pages of the Quran. However, some reports said she had burnt pages of the Noorani Qaida, a booklet used to teach children to read the Quran.

Hundreds of Christian families fled Mehria Jaffar area after her arrest due to fears of attacks by their Muslim neighbours.

The case has again highlighted Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law, under which a person can be punished with life in prison or even death.

Critics say the law is often used to settle personal scores or to persecute minorities like Christians.


Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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