ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan accused of blasphemy, may be spared the death penalty as her case now goes to a juvenile court.
Moving the girl's case to the juvenile court Monday, a special court judge in Islamabad, referring to a medical report, said she was only 14 and not an adult when she was accused of burning an Islamic religious text, The New York Times reported, quoting lawyers. The girl, a resident of a slum near Islamabad, was arrested last August after neighbors accused her of burning the text.
The report said the latest court action indicated Rimsha may escape the death sentence as the country's juvenile laws do not permit capital punishment.
Her case has drawn widespread international attention and criticism of Pakistan's harsh blasphemy law, under which a person can even be sentenced to death for criticizing Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, or for desecrating Islam's holy text. Critics have said the law also is being used to persecute religious minorities in the predominantly Sunni Muslim-majority Pakistan.
The Times, quoting prosecution lawyer Rao Abdur Raheem, said the judge ordered police to draw up a revised charge for a hearing on Oct. 1 but added it appeared Rimsha may not even be tried as police investigators have said they had no evidence she actually committed blasphemy.
Earlier, Pakistani authorities arrested a cleric after accusing him of falsifying evidence against the girl.
"It is better for Ms. Masih that the case is now referred to a juvenile court," an Islamabad-based lawyer told the Times. "Prima facie, the case against her seems to be over."
CNN quoted Pakistani police as saying Rimsha Masih is innocent and had been framed.
"There was no legal evidence against Rimsha," one officer told CNN.
"This is a precursor to the case ending, and that is quite unprecedented in the 25-year history of Pakistan's blasphemy laws," said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director of Human Rights Watch.
In early September, Rimsha and her family, who went into hiding after the girl was granted bail, spoke to CNN, in which the girl was quoted as saying she was happy to be with her family but feared for her life.
"I'm scared," she told CNN on telephone. "I'm afraid of anyone who might kill us." She also denied burning the religious text.
Rimsha's father, who is a house painter, told CNN no one in his family would commit such an act. "We respect the Koran just like we respect the Bible. We couldn't imagine committing blasphemy, let alone doing it. Our children would never do this either," he said.
CNN said aid groups have offered the family a home outside Pakistan.