NEW Muslim lawyers demand she remain in jail during a tense hearing
A decision was supposed to come Thursday, but was postponed
Pakistani authorities are under pressure to guarantee her safety
She is accused of burning Quran pages after she gathered paper as fuel for cooking
A Pakistani court postponed a hearing Saturday on whether to grant bail to a Christian girl accused of burning pages containing Quran verses in a case that has heightened religious tensions.
Muslim lawyers demanded she remain in jail during a tense hearing that included a shouting match with the judge. They provided a list of reasons she should be detained, including questioning whether the girl gave her lawyer the power of attorney.
A judge ordered investigators to get more details on her power of attorney, and postponed the hearing to Monday. Before Saturday, a decision was supposed to come Thursday, but was deferred so authorities could answer questions about her medical history.
“All these are the delaying tactics by the lawyers of the complainant to keep the girl in jail,” said her lawyer, Tahir Naveed Choudhry.
Pakistani authorities have come under pressure to guarantee her safety in a country where those accused of blasphemy have been killed by the public in the past.
Her lawyers dashed into a car and sped off after the hearing for safety reasons. The girl, named Rimsha, did not attend.
Choudhry, has sought bail, saying she is legally a minor and should be reunited with her parents rather than kept in a jail with adults.
To back up his argument, Choudhry cited a report on Tuesday by an independent medical board stating that Rimsha was 14. The doctors who examined her also concluded that her mental age was lower than her chronological age.
But on Thursday, the lawyer for the man accusing Rimsha queried the legal validity of the board’s report. The lawyer, Rao Abdur Raheem, said the seven-doctor board was constituted by the local authorities, not by court order.
As a result, the court adjourned until Saturday to allow time to verify the medical report.
The police have said that Rimsha is illiterate and has not attended school. They said last week that she had told them that she had no idea that there were pages of the Quran inside the documents she alleged to have burned.
The court faces a difficult decision amid concerns that if Rimsha is released on bail, she could be at risk from Muslims angered by the allegations against her.
Choudhry, who is also a leading member of the Christian community and member of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, said Rimsha is too young to stay in prison and would be safer joining her family, who are now in hiding.
“She was crying in the jail and missing her parents,” he said.
Choudhry says he expects Rimsha’s trial to last as long as two years. She would remain in custody for its duration, if bail is denied, he said.
If she is tried as a minor, she might also receive a milder sentence if convicted. As an adult, she faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for willful desecration of the Quran, Choudhry said
Rimsha was accused by a local resident of burning pages of the Muslim holy text after she gathered paper as fuel for cooking in Islamabad, according to the authorities. The man said he found her carrying ashes that included burned pages of the Quran in a small bag.
Choudhry has said that nobody actually saw Rimsha burning the papers.
The case has already had a severe effect on people in the area. Hundreds of Christian families have had to leave the area for fear of violence, Choudhry said.
The police said last week that about 150 people had gathered on August 17 – the day Rimsha was arrested – in the area where the neighborhood’s Christian population lives and threatened to burn down their houses.