Pakistan president seeks report on girl’s arrest in blasphemy case
ISLAMABAD PAKISTAN’S president on Monday called on officials to explain the arrest on blasphemy charges of a Christian girl with Down’s Syndrome who allegedly burnt pages inscribed with verses from the Holy Quran.
There is a growing debate about religious intolerance in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where strict anti-blasphemy laws make defaming Islam or desecrating the Holy Quran punishable by death.
The girl, Rimsha, was arrested in a low-income neighbourhood of the capital on Thursday and remanded in custody for 14 days after furious Muslims demanded she be punished, police said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, police said the girl was 16 years old.
Activists and neighbours say she is between 10 and 13 years old.
President Asif Ali Zardari took “serious note” of her arrest and called on the interior ministry to submit a report on the case, state media said.
His government has been heavily criticised in the West for refusing to reform the anti-blasphemy law, despite the assassinations of a leading politician and a Christian cabinet minister who spoke out against the law in 2011.
Human rights activists say the law is often used to settle petty disputes.
Some reports suggested the girl had been burning papers collected from a rubbish pile for cooking when someone entered her house and accused the family of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Holy Quran.
Muslim anger over the alleged incident forced Christians to flee the mixed neighbourhood of Mehrabad, 20 minutes’ drive from Western embassies.
Police investigator Zabhiullah Abbasi said Rimsha had been remanded until August 25, when she will be charged in court with blasphemy in Adiyala jail.
The bodyguard killer of Punjab governor Salman Tasser, who was murdered in January 2011 for his opposition to the law, is being held in the same place.
Abbasi said Rimsha was illiterate but denied she had Down’s Syndrome.
“The girl is 16-year-old as per the medical report and she is normal,” Abbasi said.
Rimsha’s house was locked on Monday and no one was at home, said a reporter. Local police said the family had gone to relatives outside Islamabad.
Hammad Malik, 22, who lives next door, told AFP by telephone that he saw the girl burning pages with Quranic verses on them.
“I was sitting outside my house and a few minutes before iftar (the meal that breaks the Ramadan fast) I saw her burning some booklets on the rubbish heap. I noticed there were some pages on which Quranic verses were printed,” he said.