Pakistani groups seek release of young woman accused of blasphemy

By ENInews
1 Sep 2012

Groups are continuing to lobby the Pakistani government in the case of a young woman charged with blasphemy for allegedly burning pages of the Qur'an, Islam's holy scriptures.

Today (1 September 2012) a judge at an Islamabad court deferred the bail hearing of Rimsha Masih until Monday 3 September, after it emerged that two separate sets of lawyers were attempting to defend her against charges which potentially carry the death penalty.

Several secular groups in Pakistan have joined street protests by Christian activists demanding the release of Ms Masih, whose family is Christian and who lives near the nation's capital.

On 28 August 2012, news reports said that an examination has shown that she is between 13 and 14 and that her mental development does not match her age. Her father has said she has learning difficulties and she is reportedly illiterate.

"This teenager is innocent. How can an illiterate girl commit blasphemy by burning a sacred text that she cannot recognise?" Salamat Akhtar, chairman of the All Pakistan Christian League, told ENInews 27 August from his base at Rawalpindi. The league organised street protests in Karachi, Hyderabad and Sindh.

Several action groups like Citizens Forum for Democracy, Action Committee for Human Rights and the Peace and Development Organisation joined the protests.

According to news reports, the girl was arrested on 17 August after allegations she had burned pages of the Qur'an while burning papers from the trash in a cooking fire. A Muslim mob threatened to burn her and her house.

Paul Bhatti, Pakistan's minister for National Harmony, has been quoted by the BBC saying that it seemed "unlikely she purposefully desecrated the Qur'an."

Akhtar said that several hundred Christians have fled their houses near Islamabad fearing attacks after mosques repeatedly played out on loudspeaker the blasphemy allegation against the Christian girl.

Pakistan is 95 per cent Muslim. The blasphemy law, which makes desecration of the Qur'an punishable by death, has been reportedly misused in property disputes and personal rivalries.

Sending a girl to prison "is against the very spirit of Islam which is all about being just and compassionate. The state should care for its children, not torment them," said Imran Khan, chief of the Justice Party.

Meanwhile, the Vatican has joined the protest. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Vatican congregation for interfaith dialogue, on 25 August defended the girl, stressing that she "cannot read or write."

[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

The first three paragraphs of this report have been modified in accordance with the latest data on the case.

[Ekk/3]

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