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posted: 11/20/2012 10:15 AM

Pakistan court acquits Christian girl of blasphemy

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Associated Press

ISLAMABAD -- A Pakistani court on Tuesday acquitted a Christian girl accused of blasphemy over the burning of the Muslim holy book, her lawyer said.

The ruling was the final chapter in a case that caused an international outcry over Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws, which are very popular in the country and are primarily used against supposed offenses to Islam.

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In August, the young Christian girl was arrested in Islamabad after a Muslim cleric accused her of desecrating the Muslim holy book, the Quran. The cleric was later accused of fabricating evidence against the girl, whose mental capacity was subsequently questioned.

Attorney Abdul Hameed said the court on Tuesday exonerated his client for lack of evidence and dismissed all charges against her, concluding they were based on heresy and incriminated material that was planted in the girl's possession.

"I am happy that the poor girl's ordeal is now over," he told The Associated Press after hearing the court ruling in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

The girl was freed on bail in September and since then she has been living with her parents at some undisclosed location in Pakistan. She has not made any public appearance due to security reasons.

The girl's name has been released by Pakistani authorities and in the media but The Associated Press generally does not identify juveniles accused of crimes. Pakistan's blasphemy laws carry a punishment of life in prison or the death sentence.

Pakistani and international human right groups have urged the government to change the blasphemy laws, saying they laws are too broad and vague, and are often used by people who are trying to settle scores with rivals or target religious minorities, who make up 5 percent of Pakistan's 180 million-strong population.

Although many Muslims are also accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad or other acts deemed blasphemous, minorities in Pakistan are disproportionately represented among the defendants, rights groups say.

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