Pak court extends remand of disabled girl
A Pakistani court on Friday extended by a fortnight the judicial remand of a minor Christian girl arrested on a charge of blasphemy.
Rimsha Masih, who was arrested from the low-income Mehria Jaffar area on the outskirts of Islamabad on August 16, was produced in the court of a judicial magistrate amidst tight security.
The girl was presented before the judicial magistrate following the expiry of her remand.
The investigating officer told the court that the probe had not been completed and sought more time to present the 'challan' or chargesheet against Rimsha.
The magistrate extended Rimsha's remand by two weeks and directed police to present the chargesheet soon.
Rimsha, who suffers from down syndrome, was escorted from Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, where she has been held for over two weeks, to the court in Islamabad by a large police contingent.
Her face and torso were covered with a white sheet as she was led into the court by policewomen and armed police guards.
Xavier P William, president of the NGO Life For All, condemned the extension of Rimsha's remand.
"This is highly condemnable because she is a minor, but she is being treated like a criminal," he told PTI.
"This is just insanity because she is just a child. We demand that Rimsha's case be transferred to the juvenile justice system. If that is not done, at least the hearings in her case should be conducted within Adiala Jail as we have concerns for her safety," William said.
District and Sessions Judge Jawad Abbas is set to hear an application seeking bail for Rimsha tomorrow.
A bail hearing scheduled for yesterday was put off after the lawyer of Rimsha's accuser challenged an official medical board's report which had concluded she was about 14 years old and that her mental development did not correspond to her age.
Rao Abdul Raheem, who represents the man who accused Rimsha of burning pages of the Quran, warned that people could take the law into their own hands if the girl is not convicted.
Rights activists said Raheem's remarks could further complicate the case and pressure the court.
Raheem claimed the medical board's report was illegal as the examination of Rimsha was conducted on the orders of a government official and not the district and sessions court.
"There are many Mumtaz Qadris in this country and we will support them," he said, referring to the police guard who gunned down Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer last year after he criticised the blasphemy law.
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 like Christians.