- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 28, 2012

ISLAMABAD (AP) — An official medical review of a Pakistani Christian girl accused of desecrating the Koran has determined that the girl is a minor, a lawyer for the girl said Tuesday.

The finding, which means the girl will be tried in the juvenile court system, could possibly defuse what has been a highly contentious case in Pakistan, where blasphemy can be punished with life in prison or even death.

The accusations against the girl have inflamed religious tensions in Pakistan, and sparked a mass exodus of Christians from the girl’s neighborhood who feared retribution from their Muslim neighbors.

About 300 of the Christians who set up camp in a field outside the capital were evicted from the site Tuesday, and their makeshift church was burned down.

The attorney, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, said a report by a medical board investigating the age and mental state of the girl determined she was 14 years old.

He also said the board determined her mental state did not correspond to her age. It was not clear whether that meant she was mentally impaired. Some Pakistani media reports have said the girl has Down syndrome.

Chaudhry said a bail hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday, and that he would move to dismiss the case after the hearing, saying there was “no solid evidence” against his client.

He said he saw his client Saturday in the Rawalpindi prison where she’s being held and that she was “weeping and crying.”

The Associated Press is withholding her name because it does not generally identify underage suspects.

The girl was accused by a neighbor of burning pages of a Quran, Islam’s holy book. But many aspects of the case have been in dispute since the incident surfaced a little less than two weeks ago, including her age, whether she was mentally impaired and what exactly she was burning.

The lawyer said a birth certificate provided by the church put her age at eleven years old, but in the end the medical board determined she was 14. Generally, birth certificates must be issued by the Pakistani government to be considered legal documents.

The case has spotlighted once again Pakistan’s troublesome blasphemy laws that critics say can be used to settle vendettas or seek retribution. Many of Pakistan’s minorities, including Christians, live in fear of being accused of blasphemy.

Hundreds of Christian families have fled the neighborhood where the girl lived, fearing a backlash from their Muslim neighbors.

Over the weekend a group of about 300 cleared out a section of land in a forested part of an Islamabad neighborhood and built the skeleton of a church from branches, complete with a cross, and were using it to hold prayer services.

Christians in the area said Tuesday that in the middle of the night, people burned their makeshift church to the ground. Then the group was evicted from the site.

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