An 11-year-old Christian girl who reportedly has Down syndrome and/or learning disabilities has been arrested for blasphemy in Pakistan. Identified only as Rimsha in Agence France-Presse, the girl was arrested after being found holding burnt pages of the Koran and Islamic texts in public on Thursday and was taken to a police station in Islamabad where she has been since detained.
Under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, a person can be jailed for life for desecrating the Koran.
Dr Paul Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister for National Harmony, has told the BBC that Rimsha’s parents have been taken into protective custody and that 600 people have fled from their Christian neighborhood in Mehrabad, a section of Islamabad. Bhatti also said that, due to the girl’s “mental disorder,” it “unlikely she purposefully desecrated the Koran” and that
“From the reports I have seen, she was found carrying a waste bag which also had pages of the Koran. This infuriated some local people and a large crowd gathered to demand action against her. The police were initially reluctant to arrest her, but they came under a lot of pressure from a very large crowd, who were threatening to burn down Christian homes.”
AFP says that “angry Muslim rallies” have been held to demand that Rimsha be punished. She appeared before a court on Thursday and is to be held for fourteen more days and then be in court again at the end of the month.
Rights groups including the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) are condemning Rimsha’s arrest. Demanding her immediate release, WAF spokeswoman Tahira Abdullah described outrage “at the total inhumanity of the men who lodged the First Information Report (FIR) in the police.” She also said that police should have addressed the situation under the Juvenile Justice System rather than as “the serious allegation of blasphemy,” adding that police have allowed neither lawyers nor civil society representatives to visit Rimsha while she is in custody.
Where is the proof that Rimsha herself set the texts on fire? Might not someone, aware of the charges of blasphemy and of her disability, have given her them to carry?
In view of her age and certainly her disability, the arrest, detention and charges against Rimsha are simply horrendous and proof that Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law must be repealed — certainly debate about it must be reopened — in the name of human rights and simple justice.
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Photo by Roel Wijnants