ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s president 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 Qur’an.
Police said the girl, Rimsha, was arrested in a low-income neighborhood of the capital last Thursday and remanded in custody for 14 days after furious Muslims demanded she be punished.
Police said the girl was in her teens. Activists say she is 11 years old.
President Asif Ali Zardari took “serious note” of the arrest and called on the interior ministry to submit a report on the case, state media said.
Some reports suggested the girl had been burning papers collected from the rubbish for cooking when someone entered her house and accused the family of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Qur’an. Human rights activists say the law is often used to settle petty disputes.
Muslim anger over the alleged incident forced Christians to flee the Mehrabad slum, home to hundreds of Christians 20 minutes’ drive from Western embassies.
Rimsha’s house was locked from the outside on Monday and no one was at home, said a reporter. Neighbors were reluctant to speak about the incident, saying that they had not witnessed the alleged desecration themselves. The streets were quiet as Muslims celebrated Eid Al-Fitr, and one Christian neighbor said that he had never left the area, not feeling any danger.
Local shopkeeper Mohammad Tahir said the girl was handed over to the authorities immediately after the incident “so that no one would hurt the family” and said there had been only a “very small protest” on Friday.
A senior official of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, said Christians who fled for shelter with relatives elsewhere in Islamabad were now gradually returning to Mehrabad.
He said the girl had Down’s Syndrome a condition which causes various degrees of learning difficulties and disputed the age given by police.
“She was just 11 to 12 years old,” he said, adding his organization wanted the hugely sensitive case resolved “amicably”.
The Women’s Action Forum, a leading Pakistani organization fighting for the rights of women, condemned Rimsha’s arrest.
Spokeswoman Tahira Abdullah demanded her immediate release and expressed outrage at the “total inhumanity” of the men who lodged the case with police.
Police should have dealt with the case under the Juvenile Justice System, she said, accusing police of not allowing lawyers to visit the girl. — AFP