South Asia

Mentally-ill Pakistan 'blasphemer' is released

Protesters take to the street earlier this year year against alleged blasphemy on the Facebook website
Image caption Blasphemy is an emotive issue in Pakistan

A court in Pakistan has ordered the release of a mentally-ill woman who was charged with desecrating the Koran, the Muslim holy book, in 1996.

Zaibun Nisa, 60, was never put on trial and her relatives did not contest her arrest, her lawyer said.

Pakistan's blasphemy law prescribes the death sentence for anyone found guilty of insulting the Prophet Muhammad or the Koran.

Human rights groups have been campaigning for its repeal.

They say that the legal procedures involved are weighed against those accused of blasphemy.

On Monday, unidentified gunmen killed two brothers accused of blasphemy in the premises of a Pakistani court.

Public backlash

"Zaibun Nisa was declared mentally ill by a medical board soon after her arrest in 1996, but she was still sent to jail," her lawyer, Aftab Ahmad Bajwa, told the media after the court orders on Thursday.

"There was no evidence linking her to the crime," he said.

A police official, requesting anonymity, said she was arrested to defuse the tension - but everyone forgot about her when she was sent to jail.

Her family did not pursue the case probably due to fear of a public backlash, he said.

In Pakistan, people accused of blasphemy and their family members have often been lynched or killed by mobs.

The complainant in the case was Qari Hafeez, a cleric from Lahore who reported to the police that he had found torn pages of the Koran thrown in a drain.

The police lodged a complaint against unknown offenders.

'Mental sub-jail'

Qari Hafeez told the media in Lahore on Thursday he did not name Zaibun Nisa as an offender in the case.

"Police acted on their own initiative to arrest the woman," he said.

Mr Bajwa discovered her in a "mental sub-jail" a year ago and filed a petition on her behalf in the Lahore High Court.

He said the woman will be sent to a shelter for homeless people as her family cannot be traced.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites