Daily Dispatches

Christian in Pakistan blasphemy case ruled a minor

Pakistan

ISLAMABAD (AP)-An official medical review of a Pakistani Christian girl accused of desecrating the Quran has determined that the girl is a minor, a lawyer for the girl said Tuesday.

The finding, which means the girl will be tried in the juvenile court system, could possibly defuse what has been a highly contentious case in Pakistan, where blasphemy can be punished with life in prison or even death.

The accusations against the girl have inflamed religious tensions in Pakistan, and sparked a mass exodus of Christians from the girl's neighborhood who feared retribution from their Muslim neighbors.

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About 300 of the Christians who set up camp in a field outside the capital were evicted from the site Tuesday, and their makeshift church was burned down.

The attorney, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, said a report by a medical board investigating the age and mental state of the girl determined she was 14 years old.

He also said the board determined her mental state did not correspond to her age. It was not clear whether that meant she was mentally impaired. Some Pakistani media reports have said the girl has Down syndrome.

Chaudhry said a bail hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday, and that he would move to dismiss the case after the hearing, saying there was "no solid evidence" against his client.

He said he saw his client Saturday in the Rawalpindi prison where she's being held and that she was "weeping and crying."

The Associated Press is withholding her name because it does not generally identify underage suspects.

The girl was accused by a neighbor of burning pages of a Quran, Islam's holy book. But many aspects of the case have been in dispute since the incident surfaced a little less than two weeks ago, including her age, whether she was mentally impaired and what exactly she was burning.

The lawyer said a birth certificate provided by the church put her age at eleven years old, but in the end the medical board determined she was 14. Generally, birth certificates must be issued by the Pakistani government to be considered legal documents.

The case has spotlighted once again Pakistan's troublesome blasphemy laws that critics say can be used to settle vendettas or seek retribution. Many of Pakistan's minorities, including Christians, live in fear of being accused of blasphemy.

Once someone is labeled as a blasphemer, even if they are never convicted, they can face vigilante justice by outraged Pakistanis. In July, thousands of people dragged a Pakistani man accused of desecrating the Quran from a police station, beat him to death, and set his body alight.

The potential public backlash has also deterred many from speaking out in favor of changing or repealing the blasphemy law. Last year two prominent politicians who criticized the law were murdered, one by his own bodyguard, who then attracted adoring mobs.

© 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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