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Protests over young girl’s blasphemy case

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Aisha Farooq
WVoN co-editor

Last Saturday saw protests from the Pakistani Christian community in Karachi over the detainment of Rimsha Masih on blasphemy charges.

The nonpartisan organsiation, Alpha Human Rights Care Association organised the rally, with 50 men and women gathering together to demand the release of the girl.

Rimsha, who is thought to be between 10 and 13 years old and suffering from Down’s Syndrome, was handed over to the police on Thursday and remanded in prison for 14 days.

Protestors claim that police had no proof of her burning or defiling pages of the Qu’ran and that she was suffering a great ordeal in prison.

Activist Xavier William who visited her in prison last week said the young girl was too ‘frightened and traumatised’ to speak.

“She was assaulted and in very bad shape”, he said. “She had bruises on her face and hands.”

Village Imam, Hafiz Khalid Chishti also reported on Friday that he turned the young girl in to protect her from the violent and growing mob outside her house.

‘Some women were beating her and other people were trying to break her arms when I rescued her,” Chishti insisted.

“People were demanding to burn their house, but I went to police and called them to avoid a major incident,” he said.

Chishti also said that the girl had openly confessed of what she had done.

“She did it knowingly, this is a conspiracy and not a mistake,” he said.

Amid growing concerns of the girls well-being, Amnesty International has urged Pakistan to reassess their anti-blasphemy laws to offer greater protection to non-Muslim minorities in the country.

The vague yet severe laws for blasphemy has meant that many accused of petty or trivial crimes have in the past received extreme punishments, including the death penalty.

Polly Truscott, Amnesty’s South Asia Director said, “Amnesty International is extremely concerned for Rimsha’s safety.”

“In the recent past, individuals accused of blasphemy have been killed by members of the public,” she said.

“The continued failure to reform these laws has effectively sent the message that anyone can commit outrageous abuses and attempt to excuse them as defence of religious sentiments,” she said.

International support for Rimsha has been growing rapidly. A spokesperson for the US State Department, Victoria Nuland said, “We urge the government of Pakistan to protect not just its religious minority citizens but also women and girls.”

A leading Pakistani women’s rights organisation, the Women’s Action Forum, also showed outrage over the arrest. Spokeswomen Tahira Abdullah accused the men who handed Rimsha over to the police of ‘total inhumanity’.

She said that police were forbidding the girl visits from any lawyers and it was a matter for the Juvenile Justice System to deal with.

The issue of blasphemy, however, is a delicate subject, and one unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Many critics have commented that law reforms will not be made by the Pakistan government, especially during an election year.

A Karachi political columnist, Cyril Almeida insisted, that the question of reform was ‘politically too toxic’.

“It’s the ultimate vulnerability,” he claimed. “If you have a rabid core determined to get their way, there won’t be much of a pushback from society because it’s not something they’ll actively get involved with, whether they approve or not.”

Rimsha is yet to await sentencing by Pakistan’s blasphemy courts, where she is expected to stand trial in the next 10 days.

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