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No Bail Set for Pakistani Girl Accused of Blasphemy

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A Pakistani judge has delayed bail proceedings for a Christian girl accused of blasphemy, a charge punishable by death in Pakistan.

Rimsha 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 was 14 years old, but mentally younger than that. Rao Abdur Raheem said the medical report should have been ordered by a court and not the government, which he said may have influenced the report.

The girl's lawyer, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, rejected Raheem's allegations and 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 also have 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. Amnesty International last week called for the government to urgently reform its blasphemy laws, and protect Masih and her family against possible intimidation or attack.

Last year, Pakistan's Minister of Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of the federal Cabinet, was gunned down in Islamabad. And Punjab province's governor, Salman Taseer, was killed by one of his bodyguards for opposing the controversial 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.

Article by VOA News