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Pakistani Court Delays Bail of Girl Arrested Under Blasphemy Law

Aug. 30 (Bloomberg) -- A judge in Pakistan delayed the bail hearing of a Christian girl accused of burning pages of the Koran as he sought details on a medical report that put her age at 14.

The girl was arrested Aug. 20 on a complaint by a neighbor in a slum area of Islamabad, the capital. Desecrating the holy text is a crime that can bring punishments of life in prison, or even death, under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law.

“We need further clarification from the concerned medical board,” Judge Raja Jawad Hassan said during a bail hearing today, postponing the case until Sept. 1. Rao Abdur Raheem, a lawyer for the complainant, argued that the medical report had been “manipulated” to show that the girl is under age and couldn’t be tried in an adult court.

The incident has created panic among some members of the minority faith, who say they fear being attacked. About 100 Christians have set up a camp in a park in Islamabad, claiming their lives will be in danger if they return to their homes, the Dawn newspaper reported today.

Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, representing the girl, said medical tests showed her mental state lagged her age.

The blasphemy law was passed in 1987 under the army rule of General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq as part of his policy of building a more explicitly Islamic state in Pakistan. While no one has been executed by the state under the law, killings over alleged blasphemy cases have included seven Christians amid riots in 2009 in Gojra, Punjab.

Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, was shot dead by one of his bodyguards last year after he called publicly for changes to the country’s blasphemy law.

Controversy over the law escalated in 2010 after a court used it to sentence a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, to death. The government of President Asif Ali Zardari expressed readiness to pardon Bibi and consider changes to the law, which religious conservatives have used to conduct a “reign of terror” against minorities, according to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

To contact the reporters on this story: Haris Anwar in Dubai at hanwar2@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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