Pakistan: Christian Girl Charged
August 29, 2012
A young, physically-handicapped Christian girl accused of blasphemy waits to hear her fate in a high security prison in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Rimsha Masih, a poor girl from a low caste family of Christian sweepers, was accused of burning pages containing Quranic verses. When rumors of the incident spread, hundreds of Muslim protestors surrounded a police station on Aug. 16 and demanded Rimsha face prosecution under Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws.
Under the laws, Rimsha could receive a death sentence if found guilty of insulting Islam. However, because of her age, the case was handed over to the juvenile courts, which are often more lenient. According to her lawyer, Rimsha could be granted bail at her next hearing. A hearing is scheduled to take place on Thursday.
The police First Information Report listed Rimsha’s age as 11, but a medical board said she was 14 and determined Rimsha has a degree of mental disability. She is believed to have Down’s syndrome.
There are conflicting claims as to how Rimsha found the papers, but when a Muslim neighbor accused her of desecrating the Quranic verses, more than 300 Muslims entered the predominantly Christian neighborhood in Islamabad, where the family lived. They surrounded Rimsha’s house and threatened to kill her. A VOM contact reported that they verbally abused Christians while chanting, “Kill kafirs!” (meaning, “Kill unbelievers!”).
The prayer leader of a nearby mosque stated that he saved Rimsha by leading her out of the mob and handing her and two family members over to local police. The mob then rioted around the police station. Fearing the mob would harm the family or destroy the police station, police charged Rimsha with blasphemy. Police held her two family members in protective custody before releasing them three days later.
Hundreds of Christians fled the neighborhood and sought safety in other areas of the city, including a tent city on some forested land. A makeshift church where the displaced held a church service last weekend was later burned down, and the Christians were forced off the land. About 50 families have since returned to the neighborhood, but shopkeepers are refusing to sell them food.
VOM staff in Pakistan are closely monitoring the situation.
Sources: VOM contacts, PakTribune, New York Times