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RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AP) -- A young Christian girl accused of burning pages of Islam's holy book was freed Saturday from a jail near the capital where she had been held for three weeks, a Pakistani jail official said.
The release a day after a judge granted her bail is another step closer to ending an episode that has focused an uncomfortable spotlight on Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, which can result in life in prison or even death for defendants. Many critics say the laws are misused to wage vendettas or target Pakistan's vulnerable minorities like the Christians.
A Muslim cleric from her neighborhood was arrested last week for planting evidence to incriminate the girl, an about-face in a case that has drawn strong international condemnation. Even in Pakistan where there is significant support for punishing people accused of desecrating the Quran or insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammed, the girl's age and questions about her mental state have earned her a degree of public sympathy often lacking in other blasphemy cases.
The tight security present during her release is a sign that authorities are taking her safety seriously in light of previous attacks on people accused of blasphemy. Two prominent politicians were gunned down last year for suggesting the blasphemy laws should be amended to prevent misuse. The killer of one of the politicians was later lauded by supporters who threw rose petals whenever he appeared at court.
Bail is rarely granted in blasphemy cases, and the decision signals a degree of sympathy that could result in all the charges being dropped.