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Christian girl granted bail in Pakistan Islam defamation case

Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, center, lawyer of Christian girl accused of blasphemy, leaves after court hearing in Islamabad, Pakistan on Monday, Sept. 3, 2012. A Muslim cleric is accused of stashing pages of Quran in a Christian girl's bag to make it seem like she burned the Islamic holy book, a surprising twist in a case that caused an international outcry over the country's strict blasphemy laws.

Anjum Naveed/AP

A Christian girl arrested in Pakistan for defaming Islam was granted bail on Friday, a judge said, days after police detained a Muslim cleric on suspicion of planting evidence to frame her.

Rimsha Masih could be free by this evening if her bail, of 500,000 rupees ($4,750), is met, a minister said. But she may be in danger if she is set free and stays in Pakistan.

Her arrest last month angered religious and secular groups worldwide but protests in Pakistan attracted only a handful of supporters.

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In Muslim Pakistan, the mere allegation of causing offence to Islam can mean death. Those accused under an anti-blasphemy law are sometimes lynched by the public even if they are found innocent by the courts.

The girl, believed to be 14, will be reunited with her family at a location that is being kept secret for security reasons, said Robinson Asghar, an aide to Minister for National Harmony Paul Bhatti.

There were no plans to send Ms. Masih abroad, Mr. Bhatti told Reuters.

"I am really satisfied and happy. I believe justice has prevailed," he said.

Ms. Masih was accused by Muslim neighbours of burning Islamic religious texts and arrested, but police recently said a cleric had been taken into custody after witnesses reported he had torn pages from a Koran and planted them in Ms. Masih's bag beside burned papers.

Activists and human rights groups say vague terminology has led to the anti-blasphemy law's misuse, and that it dangerously discriminates against the country's tiny minority groups.

Human Rights Watch welcomed Ms. Masih's release and urged authorities to consider reforming the law.

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"This child should not have been behind bars at all. All charges against her should be dropped," the international rights group said in a statement.

"Pakistan's criminal justice system should instead concentrate on holding her accuser accountable for inciting violence against the child and members of the local Christian community."

More than one million people globally have signed a petition started by Ms. Masih's father for her release.

But despite the international outcry, many Pakistanis support the blasphemy law.

Last year, after Punjab province governor Salman Taseer suggested reforming it, he was shot dead by his bodyguard. Lawyers hailed Mr. Taseer's killer as a hero, tossing rose petals at him after he was arrested.

Mr. Taseer had been defending a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was jailed on blasphemy charges. She is still in jail on death row.

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