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Pakistan court to issue bail decision for girl accused of blasphemy

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By the CNN Wire Staff

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) – A Pakistani court is scheduled to decide Saturday whether to grant bail to a Christian girl accused of burning pages of the Quran in a case that has heightened religious tensions.

A decision was supposed to come Thursday, but was postponed as authorities tried to answer questions about her medical history.

Pakistani authorities have come under pressure to guarantee her safety in a country where those accused of blasphemy have been killed by the public in the past.

One of her lawyers, Tahir Choudhry, has sought bail for her, saying she is legally a minor and should be reunited with her parents rather than kept in a jail with adults.

Choudhry cited a report by an independent medical board stating that the girl is 14. The doctors who examined her also concluded that her mental age was lower than her chronological age.

But on Thursday, the lawyer for the man accusing the girl questioned the legal validity of the board’s report. The lawyer, Rao Abdur Raheem, said the seven-doctor board was constituted by the local authorities, not by court order.

As a result, the court adjourned until Saturday to allow time to verify the medical report.

Police have said that the girl is illiterate and has not attended school. They said last week that she had told them that she had no idea that there were pages of the Quran inside the documents she alleged to have burned.

The court faces a difficult decision amid concerns that if she is released on bail, she could be at risk from Muslims angered by the allegations against her.

Choudhry, a leading member of the Christian community, said the girl is too young to stay in prison and would be safer joining her relatives, who are in hiding.

“She was crying in the jail and missing her parents,” he said.

Choudhry says he expects the trial to last as long as two years. She would remain in custody for its duration, if bail is denied, he said.

If she is tried as a minor, she might receive a milder sentence if convicted. As an adult, she faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for willful desecration of the Quran, the lawyer said.

She was accused by a local resident of burning pages of the Muslim holy text after she gathered paper as fuel for cooking in Islamabad, according to the authorities. The man said he found her carrying ashes that included burned pages of the Quran in a small bag.

The lawyer has said nobody actually saw her burning the papers.

The case has already had a severe effect on people in the area. Hundreds of Christian families fled the area for fear of violence, Choudhry said.

About 150 people gathered on August 17 — the day she was arrested — in the area where the neighborhood’s Christian population lives and threatened to burn down their houses, police said.