20 Aug 2012

Christian girl held for blasphemy in Pakistan

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari calls for a report into the arrest and imprisonment of a Christian girl accused of desecrating pages of the Koran.

The girl – believed to be 11 years old and possibly suffering from Down’s syndrome – was allegedly seen by some boys throwing away a bag containing pages of Islamic religious material.

Police arrested her after hundreds of furious locals surrounded her home in one of the poorer, outlying districts of the capital Islamabad.

She remains in police custody as the authorities investigate the claims. Her parents are said to have fled, amid reports that other Christian residents have also fled the neighbourhood for fear of reprisals by Muslims.

One resident, David Masih, said: “We were sleeping in our house that night. They fled (the girl’s parents) around 2.30 in the morning. We saw in the morning that the house was locked up, and then we left the area.”

Mr Masih added that he was advised to flee by his landlord. “He said don’t be scared, no one will disturb you, but you should leave the house until 1st September.”

‘No-one threatened them’

Yet Hafiz Mohammad Zubair, an assistant cleric at the local mosque, refuted any suggestion Christian families in the area were under threat.

“The Christian families left of their own accord,” he said. “No-one threatened or beat them.”

The Christian families left of their own accord. No one threatened or beat them. Assistant cleric at the local mosque

The girl’s arrest and outrage among the local community demonstrates the deep emotion that suspected blasphemy cases can evoke in this conservative Muslim country, where rising extremism often means religious minorities live in fear of persecution.

In Pakistan, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, or its holy book, the Quran, can be sentenced to death, although they’re rarely if ever executed.

A spokesperson for President Asif Ali Zardari said the president was aware of the girl’s arrest and has asked the Interior Ministry to look into the case. Attempts to revoke or alter the blasphemy laws have been met with violent opposition in Pakistan.

Last year, two prominent political figures who spoke out against the laws were killed, in attacks that raised concerns about the rise of religious extremism.