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Christian girl facing blasphemy charge gets bail

By: Malik Asad

ISLAMABAD: In a landmark decision, the additional district and session’s court of Islamabad on Friday granted bail to a Christian girl accused of blasphemy. But the girl was not released from Rawalpindi’s Adiyala jail because the court order was issued just before the closure of government offices.

The girl’s lawyer said it was the first time anyone facing a blasphemy charge had been released on bail.

Judge Mohammad Azam Khan accepted the girl’s bail against a surety bond of Rs 1 million on four major counts. The court declared the girl a juvenile and, while referring to her medical report, pointed out that her “mental age” appeared to be less than her chronological age.

The order said that in the light of statements recorded by witnesses, including Muezzin Hafiz Zubair, the evidence against the Christian girl had been altered by the Imam of a mosque. Since the trial of Imam Mohammad Khalid Jadoon was pending and that of the girl would take time, the order said, the girl could not be kept in jail for an indefinite period.

After the acceptance of her bail plea, the court administration deferred her jail trial.

On Aug 31, the Islamabad chief commissioner had ordered a jail trial because of sensitive nature of the case. According to a notification issued by his office, senior civil judge Mohammad Amir Aziz was appointed presiding officer for the trial.

A court official told Dawn that the notification had become infructuous because after the acceptance of bail plea, the case was no longer “sensitive”.

Moreover, he added, the Islamabad High Court had issued an order under which cases relating to blasphemy could only be taken up by the district and sessions court. After that order, the official said, the senior civil judge could hear the girl’s case.

But if the district administration wanted a jail trial for Imam Jadoon, a fresh notification might be issued, he added. Judge Azam Khan directed Sub-Inspector Munir Hussain Jaffery, investigation officer of the case, to carefully examine all facts and investigate the matter seriously.

The investigation informed the court that in his sermon Imam Jadoon had encouraged local people to evict the child’s family from the area after Friday prayers.

Tahir Naveed Chaudhry and Raja Ikram Ameen Minhas, appearing on behalf of the girl, informed the court that land mafia also wanted to expel the Christian community from the area. Rao Abdul Rahim, the counsel for complainant Malik Ummad, informed the court that police were harassing his client and raided his house without permission of the area magistrate.

He said the complainant and witnesses had been summoned by police several times and pressurised to backtrack on allegations.

Since her arrest in a poor Islamabad suburb on Aug 16, the girl has been held in the same jail as the convicted killer of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, murdered outside a coffee shop by his bodyguard last year.

An official medical report has classified her as ‘uneducated’ and aged 14, but with a mental age younger than her years. Others have said she is as young as 11 and suffers from Down Syndrome.

“It is unprecedented in the history of Pakistan for anyone accused of blasphemy to be granted bail,” he said