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What's Next For Jailed Pakistani Christian?


There's been international outcry over the arrest of a young Christian girl in Pakistan, who's charged with blasphemy. A Muslim neighbor denounced her for allegedly burning parts of the Quran, a crime that's punishable by death in Pakistan. An Islamic cleric caught word of it and stirred up an angry mob that beat the young girl. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Islamabad, the girl is now behind bars and unable to see her lawyer or family.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Lawyer Tahir Naveed Chaudhary has only seen his client once. She was huddled in a dark corner in a police station trembling moments after officers whisked her away from a mob that called for her to be stoned to death.

TAHIR NAVEED CHAUDHARY: She was crying and weeping, you know, she didn't tell me because she was weeping and crying and full of fear.

FRAYER: Chaudhary says the girl, Rimsha Masih, is 11 years old and suffers from seizures. She's in jail because a Muslim neighbor says he saw her burning pages of a book used to teach children the Quran. But the lawyer says that's impossible. Rimsha's family is Christian and wouldn't have had such a book to begin with. Whatever happened, he says, it wasn't intentional.

CHAUDHARY: My client is not guilty in this case because she can't judge right and wrong because she's a minor and also she's illiterate.

FRAYER: Police say Rimsha is 16 and an adult by law. But they won't let her visit her anyone in jail to verify that or her medical condition. Amnesty International has called on Pakistan to ensure Rimsha's safety, reform its blasphemy laws and prosecute members of the mob that attacked her. But Farzana Bari, a human rights activist who's also been waiting in vain outside Rimsha's jail cell, says police are just too scared.

FARZANA BARI: Police is very reluctant to arrest or take action against this religious people, you know, this kind of bigoted mindset, because normally they do have their own militant outfit behind them. And police is always scared that then later on they can be harmed.

FRAYER: Chaudhary, the lawyer, has filed a bail application for Rimsha and will argue her case before a judge next week. Meanwhile, Pakistan's president has called for an inquiry into the girl's case, but elections are coming soon. He's under pressure to find justice for Rimsha while following the law and appeasing his constituents - extremists and liberals alike. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.