Islamabad (AsiaNews) - "I'm optimistic about the possibility that Rimsha Masih will be freed" and if she is not released tomorrow at the scheduled bail hearing, it is very likely that it "will be decided early next week", says Paul Bhatti, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister for National Harmony in comments to AsiaNews, on the story of the little Pakistani girl arrested - and now on trial - for blasphemy. The Catholic politician who holds a ministerial post explains that "we immediately set to work for her release," but now we must "respect the time of justice and let the procedures take their course." He added that President Asif Ali Zardari "agrees" on the need to release the child and is unsparing towards those associations and groups, who by exploiting Rimsha's drama are looking for publicity and money: "I want to clarify that the family is in the custody of the Ministry for Harmony and under my responsibility as head of the department. The father has spoken to no-one outside of me and the institutions involved, so these petitions that are circulating to collect signatures with a letter from Misrek Masih to the head of state are absolutely false. "
The Islamabad court judges have extended the remand for Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl suffering from mental problems accused of blasphemy for having desecrated some pages containing verses of the Koran, for 14 days. This morning, the child made a surprise appearance in court, at the end of 14 days pre-trial detention pending the closing of investigations on the matter. The judge justified the extension to allow police time to present the charge sheet on the next hearing in two weeks. Tomorrow, however, the same court shall decide her lawyer's request for her release. In fact the lawyers promised that if, as they expect, bail is not granted, they will take the battle to the High Court.
Masih is charged under the "black law" for having burned pages
printed with verses from the Koran. Under the law she could face up to life in
prison and there are fears of retaliation from elements close to the
fundamentalist Taliban, which have repeatedly carried out the extra-judicial murders
of persons indicted for blasphemy.
The judges have to decide whether to grant bail following a report by a court appointed medical board determined that the girl is under 14 years of age and shows a mental age lower than her chronological age (see AsiaNews 28/08 / 2012 Blasphemy, Rimsha Masih, minor with mental problems. Bishop of Islamabad: a positive outcome). However the nature of her mental affliction is not specified and the medical report is disputed by Islamists, who want a regular trial and subsequent punishment (see AsiaNews 30/08/2012, Islamabad, Islamic leaders challenge medical report, call for punishment of Rimsha Masih).
Speaking to AsiaNews about the judges' decision to extend her pre-trial detention, the bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi Msgr. Rufin Anthony said that "it is sad to see the little girl still behind bars." The prelate added that humanitarian organizations are galvanising "a huge effort" for her cause, and "we are with them. We are concerned about the health of Rimsha and her security." For the representatives of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), a movement founded by the Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, killed by Islamic extremists, today's verdict is "normal procedure" and they add: "The goal is the hearing tomorrow" . Even Haroon Barkat Masih, president of Life for All and Masihi Foundation, and Mehboob Alam of the Ephlal Development Foundation strongly criticize the judges' decision.