Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl accused of blasphemy, was finally released from jail and flown off to an undisclosed location on Saturday. She was, however, taken into the ‘protective custody’ of the government due to security reasons.
Live broadcasts showed heavily-armed police surrounding Rimsha, who was covering her face with a green scarf as she walked to the helicopter. The dramatic nature of Rimsha’s release underlined the fear for her life.
Under court orders, the 14-year-old was released from Adiala Jail Rawalpindi, after being held there for over three weeks following her arrest on August 16 for allegedly burning papers that contained Quranic verses. Soon after Rimsha’s arrest, a local cleric who had accused her was detained on suspicion of planting false evidence on her.
Even before the cleric’s arrest, Rimsha’s case provoked international concern because of her young age and reported mental problems.
An additional sessions judge granted Rimsha bail on Friday, which was posted at Rs1 million (USD 10,565).
Once out of her cell, Rimsha was escorted into an armored personnel carrier (APC) guarded by police commandos and air-lifted to an undisclosed location.
Despite her release, the girl remains ‘detained’ – but this time for her own safety, said an official of the city administration.
Sources said the girl was united with her family who were already shifted to the secret place located within the limits of the city.
Minister for National Harmony Paul Bhatti confirmed Rimsha’s release.
“She has been freed from the jail and was transported by a helicopter to a safe place. Her family members received her,” Bhatti said.
“Rimsha and her family will be shifted to some other place out of Islamabad on Sunday,” a police official said on the condition of anonymity.
A senior city administration officer said the girl could not be sent back to her hometown of Mehrabadia, a suburb of Islamabad, despite a considerable decrease in hostility against the girl and her family by the Muslim community of the area.
“After the arrest of the cleric, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, last week, some of his supporters once again provoked people against the Christian community,” said the administration officer, adding that the level of support for Chishti could not be termed as massive.
The ministry of interior, however, chose not to underestimate the security situation. Following a security plan, Rimsha was flown to multiple places before the chopper finally dropped her at the final location, which had already been decided. Heavy contingents of police were deployed inside the premises of the location, said the police officer.
Rumours were rife that Rimsha might be sent overseas to avoid any untoward situation, but chances remain unlikely since she could be summoned by the court.
She can, however, be exempted from appearing before the court for being a minor, according to a senior law officer of the government.
Furthermore, officials of the interior ministry, city administration or city police could not confirm whether Rimsha would be sent abroad, as suggested by some reports. However, sources said it could be a long term security option.
Minister of State on Interfaith Harmony Akram Masih Gill told The Express Tribune: “Rimsha is going nowhere. She will be staying with her family in Islamabad.”
“It is the responsibility of the state to provide full security to Rimsha and her family. Rimsha’s case is a test case in the country’s history. We have to change the mindset,” Gill said.
Bhatti also denied that Rimsha would be sent abroad.
Meanwhile, Chishti was sent on a 14-day judicial remand in Adiala Jail following his arrest early last week. He was booked for defiling the Holy Quran under section 295 B after a witness revealed that the cleric planted charred pages that were allegedly recovered from Rimsha.
Two more witnesses supported his claims and recorded their statements against the cleric. Police said Chishti did not confess to his act; however, he never challenged the claims of the witnesses either.
If convicted of blasphemy, the cleric could face a life sentence. The next hearing of the case will be held on September 16.