A Christian girl charged under strict blasphemy laws saw her chances of escaping a prison sentence increase yesterday after a court confirmed she was a minor suffering from a mental disability.
Medical tests determined Rimsha Masih was about 14 years old.
She will face a juvenile court hearing tomorrow, said the Islamabad district court judge, Rana Jawad Hasan.
“She is underage and a minor, therefore the case should proceed under the juvenile law system,” he said.
Under Pakistani law, children under 15 must be tried in a juvenile court while those under 12 are deemed to be incapable of taking responsibility for their own actions and cannot be found guilty.
Although medical examinations presented to the court dismissed claims by Masih’s parents that she is only 11 years old, her lawyer Tahir Naveed Chaudhry said he was confident the court would release her on bail following tomorrow’s hearing.
“The proof of her illiteracy, being underage and mental illness increase the prospects for her freedom,” he said. “All facts and figures support her.”
Masih was arrested earlier this month after she was found in possession of burned pages of the Qu’ran in a Christian slum on the outskirts of Islamabad.
The case has sparked international condemnation of a country whose blasphemy laws remain among the strictest in the world. Those found guilty can be sentenced to death.
Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the Catholic Church’s National Commission for Justice and Peace, said cases such as Masih’s were rarely clear-cut as authorities were often afraid to take a stand.
Last year, two officials were killed for expressing opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
“A change in the blasphemy laws is only possible with pressure from the international community,” he said.