Pakistan blasphemy case girl granted bail
A Christian girl who has been detained on blasphemy charges for three weeks in Pakistan has been granted bail.
The girl, named as Rimsha, is thought to be about 14 years old. She was arrested in Islamabad after a mob accused her of burning pages of the Koran and demanded her punishment.
Last week a Pakistani imam was remanded in custody, accused of planting burned pages of the Koran in her bag.
The case has sparked international condemnation.
Judge Muhammad Azam Khan ordered her release and set bail at about $10,500 (£6,200).
The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says Rimsha is the first person accused of blasphemy to have been granted bail by a trial court.
The tiny court room at Islamabad's district courts was packed to capacity. Lawyers, civil society activists and press elbowed for room.
Rimsha's is the first blasphemy case in which at least three witnesses stepped up to testify that evidence was manufactured. No one has dared contradict claims of blasphemy by religious "vigilantes" before.
The Pakistani media, which has usually kept coverage of blasphemy cases to a bare minimum, also displayed a more pro-active interest in the case.
And for the first time since the 1980s when the blasphemy law was first instituted, a council of clerics openly came out in support of reports that a local cleric had tampered evidence to frame Rimsha. As a result, baton-wielding vigilantes were conspicuous by their absence on Friday.
All this seems to have created a situation where the trial court judge was able to make a bold decision. In the past, judges have tended to take blasphemy evidence at face value.
Blasphemy is not a bailable offence but her lawyers pleaded that she was a juvenile.Safety fears
Rimsha has been held at a high-security prison since 16 August. Since her arrest there have been conflicting reports about her age and mental capacity.
Doctors who examined her last month said she appeared to be about 14 and that her "mental age appears below her chronological age".
Rimsha's safety upon her release is likely to be a key concern for campaigners. Her father has previously said that he fears for his daughter's life and for the safety of his family.
Her parents were taken into protective custody at an undisclosed location following threats, and many other Christian families fled the neighbourhood after her arrest.
If her bail payment is met, Rimsha is likely to be reunited with her parents, correspondents say.
There have been cases in Pakistan where people accused of blasphemy have been killed by vigilante mobs.
Indeed Rimsha was arrested by police on 16 August in a poor neighbourhood of Islamabad only after a crowd demanded her punishment, enraged by accusations that she had burned pages of the Koran.
But in an unusual development just weeks later on 2 September, police arrested a Muslim cleric from her neighbourhood after his own deputy accused him of planting pages of the Koran in a bag belonging to Rimsha.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws
- After partition in 1947 Pakistan inherited offences relating to religion, which were first codified by India's British rulers in 1860
- In the 1980s clauses were added to the laws by the military government of General Zia-ul Haq
- One clause recommends life imprisonment for "wilful" desecration of the Koran. Another says blasphemy is punishable by death or life imprisonment
- Muslims constitute a majority of those booked under these laws, followed by the minority Ahmadi community
- A majority support the idea that blasphemers should be punished, but there is little understanding of what religious scripture says as opposed to how the modern law is codified
Imam Khalid Chishti denies the allegation but prosecutors say he will be charged with tampering with evidence as well as blasphemy.Blasphemy controversy
Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws are a highly sensitive subject in the country, but they are also often used to settle personal vendettas, correspondents say.
This case has only served to intensify concerns over the misuse of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
Rights activists have long urged Pakistan to reform the laws, under which a person can be jailed for life for desecrating the Koran.
In March 2011 Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minority affairs, was killed after calling for the repeal of the blasphemy law.
His death came just two months after the murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who also spoke out about the issue.