ISLAMABAD (AP) - A Pakistani judge granted bail Friday to a young, mentally challenged Christian girl accused of insulting Islam by burning pages of the religion's holy book.
Rights activists welcomed the decision. They had been calling for her release ever since she was arrested.
The case has focused attention on Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, which activists claim are used to persecute minorities and settle personal vendettas.
Judge Mohammed Azam Khan set bail at 1 million Pakistani rupees, or about $10,500, a significant sum in a country where many families live on only a few dollars a day. A Pakistani group that represents minorities said it would pay the bail.
"We feel that this is the real victory of truth and law," said Robinson Asghar, an aide to the Pakistani minister for national harmony who has been closely following the case.
A lawyer representing the girl, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, said the bail would be paid Saturday, and then she would be freed. She is being held in a prison in Rawalpindi, a city next to the capital of Islamabad.
The young girl, who is reported to be 14 years old and suffering from some form of mental impairment, was arrested after an angry mob surrounded her house in a neighborhood in Islamabad and accused her of burning pages from the Quran, an act punishable by life in prison under the country's harsh blasphemy laws. Her lawyer has denied the allegation.
In an unusual twist, police arrested a Muslim cleric from her neighborhood a week ago after a follower from his mosque accused him of stashing pages of a Quran in her bag to make it seem as if she burned them. He allegedly planted the evidence to push Christians out of the neighborhood and is now being investigated for blasphemy himself. He has denied the allegation.
The judge gave no reason for granting bail. During the lengthy hearing in an Islamabad courtroom, attorneys for the young girl argued that the accusations against the cleric had raised reasonable doubt about her culpability in the case.
"No evidence has been brought up against her for willfully committing this crime," said one of her lawyers, Pervez Khan.
Khan said people in the neighborhood wanted to evict the Christians.
"To achieve this nefarious design, they have framed a minor girl in this case," he said.
Rao Abdur Raheem, a lawyer for the man who brought the complaint against the girl, said the judge felt she was better able to defend herself outside prison but cautioned that the case would continue.
"This doesn't mean the allegations against her were wrong," he said.