9th September, 2012
A Christian girl in Pakistan - accused of blaspheming Islam - has been released from a prison near the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and flown to an unknown location by helicopter, according to reports over the weekend.
Rimsha Masih was imprisoned after allegations were made that she had burned pages from a religious text which contained verses from the Koran. She was released on bail after the imam who made the accusation against her was himself detained on charges of blasphemy, which carry a death sentence.
Imam Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chisht allegedly stashed Koranic papers in the girl‘s bag to ensure her conviction and push out Christians from the area, charges he strongly denied. The Koran is deemed a holy book by Muslims.
It has been claimed the girl was as young as 11-years-old although a medical report has put her age at 14 with a younger mental age.
Farrukh H Saif, executive director of Pakistan-based rights group World Vision In Progress (WVIP), told BosNewsLife that the girl could not return home after her release.
"She will not go back to the same Islamabad slum area where she came from because of security concerns," he said.
Pakistan's Minister for National Harmony, Paul Bhatti, did not elaborate, saying only that was flown "to a safe place" and reunited with her family.
Pakistan had come under international pressure to release the girl. But while WVIP and human rights group Amnesty International welcomed her release, they said the girl remains in serious danger.
Amnesty has called on the Pakistani government to urgently reform its blasphemy laws amid concerns the current legislation is often used to settle disputes or let private citizens take matters into their own hands.
Minority Christians have been detained across Pakistan on blasphemy charges. Mr Saif said he remains worried about 300 Christian families who he claimed are afraid to return to their homes in Islamabad's colony of Meherabadi where the girl lived.
Angry Muslim mobs reportedly torched several Christian homes and attacked at least one church in the area, following last month's detention of the girl on charges of blasphemy against Islam.
- DA VID ADAMS, with BosNewsLife