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Pakistani Court Extends Detention of Girl Accused of Blasphemy

  • VOA News

A Pakistani judge has extended the detention of a Christian girl accused of blasphemy, a charge punishable by death in Pakistan.

Rimsha Masih appeared in an Islamabad court Friday, where a judge ordered her to be held for 14 more days. Lawyers say the previously unannounced hearing was standard procedure. Local television showed police escorting the young girl who was covered in a white sheet to protect her identity.

Masih was taken into custody earlier this month after angry neighbors surrounded her house in Islamabad and accused her of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Quran. Some say she was burning papers from the garbage for cooking.

On Thursday, a lawyer representing the accuser challenged a medical report released earlier this week that said the girl is 14 years old and mentally impaired.

The girl's lawyer said he hoped the judge would settle the matter during a bail hearing set for Saturday.

Human-rights activists have called for the girl's immediate release from police custody. Prominent Muslim clerics in Pakistan and the country's president have also called for an impartial probe into her case.

Rights groups say the blasphemy law in Pakistan has been used to harass religious minorities and settle personal scores.

Many Christians living in Masih's neighborhood left the area fearing reprisals from Muslims.

Last year two prominent Pakistani politicians were killed for criticizing the country's blasphemy law.

Christians are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Pakistan, making up about five percent of the population.

The United States has called Masih's case "deeply disturbing" and urged Pakistan's government to protect not just its religious minority citizens, but also women and girls.

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