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Pakistan: Christian Girl Charged

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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



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