An 11-year old Christian girl, Rimsha Masih has been accused of blasphemy and has been remanded for 14 days to a juvenile prison in the twin city of the Pakistan capital, Rawalpindi. There are conflicting reports on whether she has Downs Syndrome or not.
Rimsha is accused of burning pages of Noorani Qaida, an Arabic learning lesson for beginners, and putting them in a plastic bag. The incident happened on August 16, 2012 in the slum Meherabadi in G-12, Islamabad where she lives with her family. A local police station filed a First Information Report (FIR) after a neighbor made a formal complaint against her.
The blasphemy offence comes under Article 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code and the offender can get life imprisonment or a death sentence. The news was taken up by a website ‘Christians in Pakistan’ on August 18.
The report became big news on Pakistan's mainstream media five days later on August 22. Prior to her arrest some locals of the area blocked a main highway in the capital. The mob apparently wanted to do the justice themselves. Last month a mob burnt a mentally unstable man in Bahwalpur; the man was also accused of blasphemy.
Pakistan's Minister for National Harmony, Dr. Paul Bhatti, said in an interview to BBC world service that 600 Christians have fled their homes in Islamabad after the 11-year old was arrested for blasphemy. The Christians are afraid and are hiding; the memories of 2009 Gojra attack are still fresh in their minds when a Muslim mob burnt houses of Christians and police didn’t come to help them. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the Gojra riots were pre-planned and the local administration was involved.
Anthony Permal a Pakistani Christian based in the UAE brought tweeter users attention to this story:
@anthonypermal: Confirmed- Police in #Pakistan have arrested an 11 year old Christian girl suffering from Downs Syndrome for blasphemy.
Soon an online petition was circulated for asylum of Rimsha:
@MohsinSayeed (Mohsin Sayeed): Raise your voice to save lives of Rifta&her family. Escape to a secular country is the only option. They will kill her: http://www.change.org/petitions/high-commissions-and-diplomats-of-secular-western-nations-asylum-to-the-family-of-11-year-old-christian-girl-accused-of-blasphemy# …
The online petition requests the secular western countries to provide asylum of Rimsha’s family:
Pakistanis of good conscious are signing this petition because the State of Pakistan even failed to protect their own Governor who spoke out against the draconian blasphemy law, where mere accusation of blasphemy will ensure Jail and perhaps worse for the accused.
There is another petition that is calling on Pakistan’s Minister of Human Rights and the government to protect and release Rimsha Masih.
Meanwhile, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari called on officials to explain the situation to him. The Pakistani Ambassador to the USA tweets:
@sherryrehman: Pres Zardari has taken serious note of reports of the arrest of a minor Christian girl on the charges of blasphemy & called for a report.
Amnesty International urges Pakistan to reform Blasphemy laws:
France’s foreign ministry has called the Pakistani authorities to free the young girl. Irshad Manji, Muslim Feminist and author of ‘Allah, Liberty and Love’ condemned Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
The situation is condemned by Pakistani Human Rights campaigners and activists and few politicians on twitter.
@Ali_Abbas_Zaidi (Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi): The most tragic short story to have been written about misuse of #blasphemy law in Pakistan: “She was just 11 years old.”
@MaheenAkhtar (Maheen Akhtar): Where the hell is suo motto of Cheif Justice Pakistan, is he sleeping…..Oh wait is this “Blasphemy”
@beenasarwar (Beena Sarwar): The important issue in accusations of ‘blasphemy’ is that of intent, niyat, of the accused. That's something the accusers ignore. #Pakistan
Ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf condemned the incident. Leader of PTI Imran Khan tweets.
@ImranKhanPTI: Shameful! Sending an 11yr old girl to prison is against the very spirit of Islam which is all about being Just and Compassionate.1/2
@SundasHoorain: @CMShehbaz Still waiting for action & condemnation from PML-N on an 11yr old getting accused of blasphemy, beaten & arrested #FreeRimsha
All other political parties are afraid of talking about this issue. It is considered sensitive. However no one from Pakistan demands to repeal this law.
@anthonypermal: We can't repeal blasphemy law. A) mobs would go on vigilante sprees with no qualms & b) cops couldn't stop open shia killing, how this?
In 2010, Ambassador Sherry Rehman filed the ‘Amendments to the Blasphemy Laws Act 2010′ in the National Assembly as a member of the parliament. On December 20, 2010, the Council of Islamic Ideology also announced proposed amendments to the law to prevent its misuse. But religious parties in the house -Jamat-i- Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Pakistan, and Sunni Tehreek and others threatened a mass protest. Sherry Rehman later received death threats and was confined to her house.
In January 2011, the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer a vocal critic of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, was publicly gunned down by his own guard, Mumtaz Qadri for his beliefs. Incidentally Qadri is also in Adiala jail where Rimsha has been sent. When Qadri was on his way to trial, his supporters showered him with rose petals.
Malik Siraj Akbar in his blog for Huffington Post says that discriminatory laws deepens religious intolerance in Pakistani society:
Despite such frequent unpleasant events, Pakistan has made almost no progress in reforming its deeply flawed and discriminatory law involving blasphemy. Such laws, on the one hand, discriminate against religious minorities and, on the other hand, further deepen religious intolerance and fanaticism in Pakistani society. They provide the murderers a license to kill people and easily get away with such heinous crimes in the name of religion.
Mehdi Hasan in his blog writes:
Personally, I've never quite understood why so many of my co-religionists are so keen to kill or maim those who ‘insult’ Islam, Prophet Muhammad or the Quran. What is behind such rage and, dare I add, insecurity? Is their God so weak, so sensitive, so precious, that He cannot withstand any rejection?