08/29/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN - ITALY

As Rimsha Masih waits for her fate to be decided, Christian activists campaign for her release

Islamabad court will decide on lawyers' application for release. The opinion of a medical commission that examined the girl will be decisive. Its findings indicate that she is a minor with unspecified mental challenges. Hundreds of people sign a petition for her release sponsored by a Pakistani association in Italy.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - An Islamabad court will decide tomorrow whether to accept a request by lawyers representing Rimsha Masih to release the mentally challenged Christian girl in prison since 16 August on blasphemy charges. The case has attracted worldwide attention and many organisations have launched protest and solidarity campaigns on her behalf.

On the margins of this case, the fate of hundreds of Christian families who fled their neighbourhood on the outskirts of the capital for fear of retaliation by Muslim extremists remains uncertain. Some of them in fact have not yet found a safe haven but cannot go back to their homes.

Rimsha Masih was accused of blasphemy on the basis of the 'black law' because she burnt some pages on which were printed some Qur'anic verses. According to the Pakistan Penal Code, she could get life in prison. It is feared that extremists elements close to the Taliban could retaliate, something they have done in the past when they carried out extrajudicial executions of people accused of blasphemy.

The court is expected to decide whether to release the girl or not after reviewing the findings of an evaluation carried out by a medical commission established for that purpose. The latter found that the girl is under the age of 14 and with reduced mental faculties. So far, it is unclear what her mental disability might be.

In the meantime, the Association of Pakistani Christians has launched a campaign for Rimsha's release with hundreds of people signing up around the world. The plea will eventually be presented to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Led by Mobeen Shahid, professor at the Pontifical Lateran University, activists in Rome plan to show their solidarity by launching an initiative directed at Pakistan's highest authorities.

The initiative will also include a demand to "revise or abolish" the country's blasphemy law, which has created hundreds of innocent victims since it was introduced in 1986.

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