Pakistani girl's blasphemy hearing delayed

Sept. 3, 2012 at 9:19 AM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sept. 3 (UPI) -- A Pakistani judge Monday delayed a hearing for a 14-year-old Christian girl accused of blasphemy for allegedly putting pages of the Koran in the garbage.

The girl, Rimsha Masih, has been held in an adult jail in Islamabad since Aug. 16 for allegedly tossing out pages of the sacred book of Muslims with a bag of ashes and trash.

The hearing, delayed because of a lawyers' strike, is scheduled to resume Friday, Geo News reported.

Police Saturday arrested Hafizz Mohammed Khalid Chisti, the imam of a mosque in Rimsha's neighborhood. Chisti's deputy, Maulvi Hafiz Mohammad Zubair, accused him of planting the pages of the Koran in the girl's bag of garbage, Geo News reported.

Rimsha's lawyer, Akmal Waheed Bhatti, said he would push for an instant release and acquittal. He said he had expected she would be released Monday before Judge Muhammad Azam Khan delayed the hearing.

A medical report last week said though Rimsha is 14 years old her mental age is lower. Some reports indicate she may have Down syndrome, Geo News reported.

The case has drawn much international attention because of her age, her religious minority status in Sunni Muslim-majority Pakistan and the country's harsh anti-blasphemy law under which a person can be sentenced to death for criticizing Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, or for desecrating the Koran. Critics have said the law also is being used to persecute religious minorities.

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