11 year old Christian girl arrested for ‘blasphemy’
Open Doors News has published a roundup of coverage of Friday’s arrest of Rimsha Masih, an 11-year-old girl who lives in Islamabad, Pakistan. She is accused of desecrating the Quran, and was arrested on Friday.
Can a girl reported to be as young as 11 commit blasphemy? And in Pakistan, where blasphemy is punishable by death, should the law even apply? Last week’s arrest of the girl, named Rimsha Masih, is re-igniting Pakistan’s national debate about religious freedom.
Arrests under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are nothing new, but this particular case has attracted widespread attention. Rimsha is reported to have Down syndrome, which is associated with learning disabilities. On Sunday, Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zadari, demanded a full report, saying he disapproves of any misuse of the blasphemy laws. Other groups have made statements condemning the arrest. Yet Rimsha remains in custody, and at least one news report says her parents have been placed under protective custody, too.
Rimsha lives in Sector G-12 of Islamabad, an area that one news report said is known as Umarra Jafar, and which AFP reported is called Mehrabad.
Reaction to the arrest
Many Muslims staged a demonstration, demanding the girl be released to them. Some sources, cited anonymously by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, wanted to set Rimsha on fire.
Several news reports say hundreds of Christians who live in the sector of the city have fled to other homes around Islamabad to avoid being caught up in Islamic indigation over Rimsha’s alleged desecration of the Quran. Zeenews.com, an Indian website, reported that angry Muslims beat Rimsha’s parents, and have burned several Christian homes in the area.
Rimsha’s arrest was denounced by at least one human-rights group, which said the girl should have been treated under Pakistan’s laws for children.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zadari, pictured above, said Sunday he wants a full report on the case in 24 hours. According to Press Trust of India:
He directed the authorities to protect the life and property of everyone and said no one should be allowed to take the law into his hands.
Zardari called for “protecting everyone, particularly vulnerable sections of society, from any misuse of the blasphemy law”, said presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar.
The President said blasphemy by anyone cannot be condoned but no one will be allowed to misuse the blasphemy law for settling personal scores, Babar said.