A 14-year-old Christian girl with Down's syndrome who has been held on suspicion of burning pages of the Quran was released on bail Saturday, Sept. 8.
“The court’s decision to release Rimsha on bail gives courage to other judges to act in a similar way,” Bishop Sebastian Shaw of the Lahore Archdiocese told Aid to the Church in Need.
“Many Muslims were thinking in a positive, sympathetic way but weren’t able to say as much openly,” he added. “With this precedent, they may be encouraged to say what they want.”
Rimsha Masih was released after two individuals posted a bond against assurances that she would again appear in court, according to the BBC. She has been united with her family, who have been taken into protective custody, and was flown by helicopter to her family's location Sept. 9.
Her bail was set at 1,000,000 rupees, or about $10,500. Although bail is not normally available to those held under the blasphemy laws, the evidence against her was deemed inadequate to continue to hold a minor with Down's syndrome. Her case will be transferred to a juvenile court.
Masih, who has Down's syndrome, was arrested Aug. 16 and had been held at a high-security prison in Rawalpindi.
Many Christians have fled the poor neighborhood where the Masih family lived, fearing mob violence.
In 2011, two Pakistani politicians – Salmaan Taseer, a Muslim, and Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic – were assassinated for opposing the blasphemy laws under which Masih was being held.
Masih's case has garnered attention from Western governments and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International. It has also sparked discussion of the blasphemy laws and human rights within Pakistan itself.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are said to be often used to settle scores or to persecute minorities. Christians make up two to four percent of the country’s population.
On Sept. 2 an imam from Masih's neighborhood, Khalid Chishti, was arrested on suspicion of having planted pages of the Quran among burnt pages in a bag she was carrying. Chishti will also face charges under the blasphemy laws.
Chisti allegedly told his companions that “this is the only way to expel the Christians from this area.” Several people, including his own deputy, have testified to his action of planting the Quran pages in Masih's bag.